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P align=centerBStar Trek: Deep Space Nine/B/P
P align=centerBFaith, Part I: Hope/B/P
P align=centerBy Gabrielle Lawson/P
P align=centerBChapter Five/B/P
P"Our ETA, Number One?"
PRiker had been feeling the adrenaline build in his system for two hours
already. "Four hours, twenty minutes," he replied to his captain. Might as well
be an eternity, he quipped to himself. It helped to keep him loose, to shake off
the tension, apprehension, exhilaration.
P"Hostile presence?"
PData spoke up to answer that one. "In the last hour, four vessels have left
the area. Three remain in orbit. A Jem'Hadar scout ship, a Cardassian
Galor-class warship. . . ."
P"And the Breen," Riker finished for him.
P"That doesn't bode well," Picard commented, frowning as he faced the main
viewscreen.
P"It should make it much easier to respond to the distress call, " Riker
offered, trying to keep a little optimism. Three against one was better than
seven against one.
P"They're leaving, Will. They've already done what they set out to do. We're
too late."
PRiker didn't have any words to offer. He felt the same way despite his
pretense at optimism. Carello Naru was a small colony, but a rich one. The moon
was a natural deposit of dilithium. Four hundred thousand inhabitants. Would
there be anyone left to rescue?
P"I'll be in my Ready Room," Picard said. "You have the Bridge, Number One."
PRiker nodded and stood with Picard as he left the Bridge. Once the captain
was gone, Riker took the center seat. He felt confident in it. He'd been there
enough times over the past eleven years. Hell, he could have had one of his own
years ago. He was content, under Picard, though, to wait for the
IEnterprise/I. Besides, if he were captain, it would be someone else leading
the upcoming away team, and he was sure there was going to be an away team.
PPicard studied the long-range sensor reports. The last Cardassian ship had
left. Picard didn't like that. It didn't bode well for the population of the
colony. They were still two hours out, but Picard already knew he'd be sending
an away team. Riker would lead it, with a sizeable Security contingent, but also
with a medical team.
P"I'd like to send Doctor Bashir," Dr. Crusher suggested when he contacted
her. "He handled himself well on the ship, but he had Counselor Troi there as a
backup. He's going to need to stand on his own two feet if he's going to be CMO
again."
P"I don't want to risk anyone to test Bashir's resolve or his abilities."
PCrusher cut him off quickly. "I don't think it a risk, Jean-Luc. He's
brilliant, there's no doubt of that. But he's resilient, too. I had my doubts,
at first. Not anymore."
PPicard knew Bashir's record. He'd been in several battles, both on and off
ships. He had the experience to back up his abilities. But the deciding factor,
for Picard, was Crusher's confidence in him. He nodded. "Have him prepare a
team."
P
HR

PRiker hid the scowl he would have worn on his own face. It wasn't good for
the crew to see his displeasure. He could understand the reasoning behind not
sending Crusher. The same reason he tried to keep Captain Picard from going on
away missions. But there were other doctors, any of whom Riker had worked with
before. But it was Bashir standing on the transporter pad with the rest of the
away team.
PCome to think of it, the away team, the Security portion anyway, seemed
rather stiff and formal today, standing at parade rest, eyes front, not saying a
word. Captain Picard ran a tight ship, but not that tight. It had to be
something about Bashir.
PWell, there was a job to be done, and Bashir was with the team whether he
liked it or not. Best to get on with it and get it over with.
P"I want this to be a straightforward mission," he said, addressing the whole
team. "Sensors can't accurately penetrate the dust cloud down there, so we're
going to have to reconnoiter when we get there. I want Security on the points,
two in front, two behind. Doctor, you locate the distress beacon. The rest of us
will scan the area for Dominion troops and local population. I want everyone
armed, including you, Doc."
PIDamn/I, he wished he hadn't said that. He could easily see that Bashir
was already armed. Well, too late now. "Alright then, let's go." He stepped up
on the pad taking a place beside Bashir and just behind two Security officers.
"Energize."
PWithout further delay, the transporter took hold of them and picked their
molecules apart one by one, sped them through space to the surface of the
planet, and placed each molecule back into its original location. As soon as the
last molecule was there in each of them, they began to cough.
P"The sensors couldn't detect this?" Bashir was the only one to speak.
PRiker heard him but couldn't answer. He felt the touch of a hypospray on his
neck though. A few seconds after the hiss, he could breathe easily again.
Bashir, still stifling his own coughs was inoculating the other members of the
away team. He did himself last, and offered no further comment.
P"Could the colonists survive this?" Riker asked him. He looked around and saw
only dust. Dry cracked earth, mountains in the distance, and dust.
P"This?" Bashir asked, pointing to the air around them. "It's not deadly. Not
to humanoids. Not for awhile anyway. Plant-life one the other hand. . . ."
PRiker snapped his head around to look at Bashir. "What do you mean 'not for
awhile anyway'?"
P"Oxygen, Commander" Bashir answered, with a tone that, Riker felt, implied
the commander's stupidity. "No plants, no oxygen. This moon is going to be
uninhabitable. But not for awhile. I'm more concerned that it isn't native to
this world."
PRiker tried to let go of the tone and listen to what the doctor was saying.
He looked at the ground around their feet again. There was grass, but it was
brown and withered. "You think the Dominion did this?"
PBashir raised an eyebrow to that. "You expect an answer to that after only
two minutes?" Bashir asked in return. "I'll need a little more information."
PRiker bristled at the words. Bashir could have should have just said he
didn't know. More than that, Riker resented Bashir for being right. They hadn't
yet moved from the spot to which they'd beamed. There was only so much one could
conclude from one scan with a tricorder. Then he noticed that Bashir didn't even
have his tricorder out. How had he known what it was the sensors hadn't
detected? He hadn't even said yet what it was, but he had chosen the right
compound to inoculate the away team. Riker didn't want to ask him how he knew
though. Probably smelled it with his genetically-enhanced nose.
P"Well," Riker said, trying to regain the upper hand, "let's make sure you get
it. Move out," he ordered.
P
HR

PEzri entered the door just behind Kira. Both their arms were full. The last
crates. There hadn't been too many of them. Julian hadn't kept a lot of
possessions in his quarters. "Where did this come from?" Ezri asked. "I thought
we sent his things to his family."
PKira set her own crate down on the table. "We sent some of it," she replied,
deliberately holding back. She liked Ezri but she had to admit it was harder to
talk to her sometimes, knowing she was a counselor.
PDax dropped her head forward and looked out at Kira from under her bangs. "He
didn't have much too start with. And why would you keep any of it?"
PKira turned and started to unpack her crate without answering. She heard
Dax's crate thump down hard on the table.
P"You knew!" Dax exclaimed. "How did you know?"
P"I didn't know," Kira admitted.
P"The doctors!" Dax was putting it together. Kira let her. "That's why you
wanted Bajoran doctors. Rotating schedules. No permanent Chief Medical Officer.
You were keeping it open for him because you knew he was coming back!"
P"I didn't know," Kira repeated in her defense. "I believed. I hoped. I'm not
sure exactly." Despite her companion's excitement, she, herself, was subdued.
And, strangely, she now found it easier, even a relief, to talk.
PEzri nodded, but she still didn't quite understand. "But there was a body."
P"It wasn't his," Kira replied.
P"We didn't know that at the time!"
PKira sat down on the couch, and Dax, taking the cue, sat beside her. "It's
just . . . he couldn't die like that."
P"What do you mean?"
P"Not alone. It's something he said once, when Ghemor was here. No one should
die alone. It wouldn't be right if he did. The universe wouldn't be that cruel.
I couldn't believe it would be anyway. I wanted to have faith." Talking about it
brought up the old pain, the one she'd felt after losing her father, Bareil,
Ghemor, and then Julian, even if she hadn't wanted to believe it.
PEzri opened the crate that Kira had carried. A worn, brown stuffed animal
emerged first. Kukalaka. She smiled. She placed a hand on Kira's knee and her
smile widened. "It paid off," she said. "He is coming back."
P
HR

PThey were a fairly large entourage for an away team, during peacetime anyway.
But during war . . . well, that was different. Twenty men and women, all armed,
marched across the parched earth toward the source of the distress signal the
IEnterprise/I had picked up. Riker didn't like the look of things. There was
nothing around, and yet, the transporter had set them down only a half kilometer
north of the signal's source. No buildings, no trees, nothing. Just flat, dying
earth.
P"There!" Bashir said. The whole group stopped without even waiting for
Riker's orders. Bashir pointed, forward and just to the left of the point man's
shoulder.
PRiker didn't see anything. "What?"
P"There's something on the ground, sir," Bashir explained. "Flat, opaque, one
small, flashing light."
PRiker dispatched one of the security officers, Williams, to run up there.
"Sir!" the woman cried out. "I think we found it."
PBashir found it. Better eyes. Better nose. What else? Riker raised his hand
and motioned the group forward. They gathered around the beacon, with Riker and
Bashir toward the center of the circle. There it was, just as he had said: flat,
opaque, with one small, flashing light. A yellow light, to be exact, easily
overlooked in the swirling dust. The whole thing was less than a meter square,
but Bashir had seen it from twenty meters away.
PStill, it didn't constitute much of a beacon from what Riker could tell.
There were no controls, no diagrams, no markings of any kind. Just that single
flashing light. "It doesn't make much sense."
P"It could be a relay," Bashir offered, and Riker couldn't find fault with his
tone that time. He sounded uncertain, natural and human. There was something he
didn't know.
P"One way to find out," Williams suggested. "We could try turning it off."
PRiker bent down and tried to get his fingers around the flat panel. He hoped
maybe that was a cover to it, something that would reveal the device more
clearly. It seemed solid though, no cover to remove.
P"How?" Riker asked, not wanting to simply shoot down her suggestion. "There's
nothing but that light." Then he got an idea. He stood again and removed his
phaser. "Stand back."
PEveryone took two steps back and he fired. An energy shield sparkled,
covering the small panel from one corner to the next.
P"We can't destroy it either," he concluded. He hadn't expected it would work.
It was more an experiment. "The Jem'Hadar could have destroyed it otherwise. I
think the doctor is right. It's a relay. The question then becomes 'Where does
the signal get relayed from?'"
PEveryone looked around, and no one could see any sign of civilization. Not
even Bashir. Riker was sure of it, even with his genetically-enhanced eyes.
Bashir had his tricorder open but the scan wasn't working well. He kept tapping
at the device, punching controls to try and force an answer.
P"Too much interference," Riker reminded him. "But maybe there's a less
technological approach. You were able to see the relay, maybe you can hear the
signal."
PBashir snapped the tricorder shut. "What?"
P"Your senses are undoubtedly more sensitive than ours," Riker explained. "You
might be able to hear the signal."
P"Floating through the air, I suppose," Bashir shot back, waving one hand
about.
P"No," Riker replied evenly, "the relay's flush with the ground. The signal is
probably underground."
P"In the old Westerns," Billings, one of the point men, started, "someone
could put his ear to the train tracks and hear if a train was coming by the
vibrations."
PBashir snapped his head around toward Billings and Riker found himself
enjoying Bashir's reaction. He was incredulous.
P"It could work," Riker said.
P"I am not a lab rat," Bashir practically spat, "Commander."
PRiker felt a twinge of guilt. There was something about Bashir just then that
reminded him of Data, though Data would never have questioned the order. Still,
it might prove useful. He remained calm. "No, but you have abilities beyond what
we were born with," he said. "Those abilities might help us to carry out our
mission. I expect everyone on this away team to carry out his mission to the
best of his abilities. That includes your abilities."
PBashir glared at him, but he lowered himself to the ground. Riker eyed the
rest of the team and noted a few trying to stifle their snickerings. He gave
them stern looks and they straightened up. Bashir put his ear to the ground for
several seconds and then sat up and removed his shoes before returning to
listen.
PRiker knelt down. "You heard something?" He hadn't really expected Bashir to
hear anything.
PBashir sat up again and propped himself up with one hand. He didn't put his
shoes back on. "No," he said. "I felt it. Take off your shoes."
P"What?"
P"Take off your shoes," Bashir repeated, more slowly this time. "I am fairly
certain normal humans were born with a sense of touch."
PITouch/I, Riker thought, though he bristled at Bashir's tone. He
complied, sitting down. Just as he removed the second shoe, Bashir grabbed his
wrist and forced his hand to the ground. It tingled. The hairs along his arm
stood up. Bashir moved his hand over a few inches. The tingle stopped.
P"The soles are rubber," Bashir explained, his tone even. Just then, he could
have been Geordie giving him the answer to a riddle. "It was insulating us." He
released Riker's wrist and started to reach for his shoes.
PA riddle was right. "So it's coming from this direction," Riker decided,
moving his hand a few inches away from the original spot, in a direction away
from the relay. It tingled again.
PBashir had frozen, his hand on the ground near his shoes. "Not necessarily."
He looked up and pointed to Billings. "What about over there?"
PBillings dropped down willingly and removed his own shoes. "Nothing," he
reported after touching the ground.
P"Keep trying," Bashir ordered, "all the way around."
PTwo others took off their shoes and tested the ground. Riker marked the path
he'd felt by scratching a line into the ground. The others saw that and did the
same. Then they stood and stepped back to see the pattern. Three lines led out
from the panel, one to the north, toward the mountains. The other two came from
the southeast and southwest corners, and Riker couldn't see where they led.
Three directions.
P"Which one?" Williams asked.
PRiker sighed. "All three. We'll split up. Williams, you'll take Salinger,
Wworik, Manig, Kater, McGuinness, and Felder. Go southwest." He already knew
which group Bashir would be in. He wasn't going to put him in command of
anything. "Billings, you get Barrett, P'Hal, Sween, Fagan, and Drougut. Take
southeast. I'll take the rest and go north."
P
HR

P"Julian may be a little late," Captain Sisko said, opening the staff meeting.
"The IEnterprise/I intercepted a distress signal. Doctor Bashir was on the
away team sent to investigate."
PEzri looked to Kira but Kira looked to the Prophets. She had faith.
P"Depending on the situation," Sisko continued, "the IEnterprise/I could
still arrive in two days."
P"What is the situation?" O'Brien asked.
PSisko took a long breath. "The IEnterprise/I has lost contact with the
away team."
PEzri's shoulders dropped. O'Brien shook his head. Kira, though, decided that
wasn't enough information. There were many scenarios where communications could
be severed without an away team being in mortal danger. And Kira thought, from
the look on Sisko's face, that there was more he had to tell.
P"I don't think that's cause to worry just yet," Sisko reminded them.
"Kertimide radiation is interfering with sensors and communications. Still, we
should be prepared for a delay. Colonel?"
PGiven their short tenure as Chief Medical Officer, none of the Bajoran
doctors had yet been considered senior staff. Kira had voluntarily taken over
the duty of representing the medical staff in that capacity. "It shouldn't be a
problem," Kira replied, nodding confidently. "The Infirmary is fully staffed. I
thought he might want some time to settle in anyway."
P"Good planning," Sisko commented, "though he may not have that luxury. The
Dominion seems to have something in mind. Carello Naru was attacked twelve days
ago."
P"Carello Naru is one of our largest sources of dilithium," O'Brien commented,
making no effort to hide the apprehension in his voice.
PSisko nodded his satisfaction with O'Brien's train of thought. "And we
stopped an attack on a dilithium freighter just a few days ago. But wait.
There's more." Leaving them to put what few pieces to the puzzle there were, he
gave the floor to Commander Worf.
PWorf stood up and took the captain's place at the head of the table. IFive
years/I, Kira thought, as he began outlining the latest attacks. Five years of
peace in all her lifetime. Before those five years, she might have thought that
span of time an eternity. But now it seemed too short.
P
HR

PAs he walked with the others in Riker's group, Bashir thought about the
present circumstances of the moon. His mind worked backwards from the result,
the contamination, looking for all the possible causes of it. And it worked
forward, beginning with the natural resources of the planet and other materials
likely introduced by both the Federation colonists and the Dominion. He believed
that somewhere the two, backward and forward, would meet in the middle. And it
wasn't until after four hours that they finally did.
PSo clear was the answer, but also so perplexing, that Bashir stopped in his
tracks, letting everyone else continue on around him. He even pulled out his
tricorder to verify it.
P"What is it?" Riker asked. He'd stopped the group and come back to where
Bashir was standing.
P"The Dominion didn't do this," Bashir told him, surprised himself. "They left
because they couldn't solve it."
PRiker didn't say anything for a moment and Bashir watched as his face began
to turn red. "Over here," he ordered. He was angry and Bashir didn't know what
there was to be angry about.
PThe rest of the group turned away to give them some privacy but Bashir could
see them swapping questioning looks.
PRiker stepped a few meters away and waited for Bashir to join him. "You
stopped," Riker said, "and then you used the tricorder. You knew."
P"Sir?" Bashir asked, trying to get at what had made Riker angry. Really,
there were more pressing issues. If the Dominion didn't do it, who did? Bashir
thought he knew and Riker should have been asking that.
P"You just plucked the answer from the air."
PBashir took a deep breath to keep himself steady. He also had to find the
right words. Riker seemed to be thicker than most of the people he'd worked with
in the past.
P"Commander, for the past four hours, I have been thinking it out," he
explained, "the different causes and contaminants. I used the tricorder to see
if I was right."
P"And, of course, you were," Riker said, throwing up a hand.
P"Would you rather I were wrong, Commander?" Bashir asked. He felt like he was
dealing with a childhood bully. Riker was trying his patience.
PRiker stepped closer. His nostrils flared. "I want not to be constantly
reminded of your genetic superiority."
PAnother breath. Riker was making it difficult to remain calm, and Bashir
wished he would just let this drop and get back to the mission. "I wasn't aware
that performing my duty would be such a reminder. You said everyone was to
perform their duty to the best of their abilities. That is all I have done.
There are more pressing-"
PRiker smirked and didn't let him finish. "You are arrogant, overbearing, and
disrespectful."
PBashir thought of all the things he could say. He could argue, as Crusher
had, that he didn't call Commander Data arrogant just because he was smarter or
faster or stronger. He could explain that he often felt as artificial as Data,
more so perhaps since he was meant to be a natural human. He could say that he
hadn't asked to be enhanced or that he didn't revel in it. He could ask Riker
how long he should have waited until the commander would have worked it out for
himself. But all that was a waste of breath. Riker was temporary, a mere
figment, a blink of an eye in relation to the rest of Bashir's life, to the war,
to the Alpha Quadrant. Riker's attitude was nothing more than an annoyance, and
Bashir had lived with worse for far longer than he'd have to deal with Riker.
P"Is that true?" Bashir asked, meeting Riker's gaze with his own. "Or is that
only what you want to believe? You can't know what is inside me. Only I can. And
your opinion won't change anything."
P
HR

PRiker was still stuck on Bashir's question, put forth so plainly, without
attitude or accusation. Was Bashir as disrespectful as he thought, or was that
something Riker was projecting because he expected it? Bashir had said much the
same thing in the Brig. He had known he was innocent and it hadn't mattered to
him that Riker didn't think so. Riker considered the man before him, whom Troi
had deemed practically emotionless. He hadn't withered or cowered or even
offered to defend himself when Riker had challenged him. He was cold, as barren
as the land they were standing on. Riker wasn't sure which way was better. At
least arrogant and disrespectful was still alive.
P"Some things are more important than our opinions of one another, Commander,"
Bashir continued. "A good many things are more important. Like the fact that it
was the colonists themselves who contaminated this moon."
PIRight again./I Riker rankled at that, but tried to keep himself from
using that as an excuse to hound the man before him. He risked looking like a
real ass if he did, and, despite Bashir's words and Riker's opinion of him,
Bashir's opinion mattered to him. He wouldn't be an effective leader if it
didn't. And effective leaders carried out their missions, something Bashir was
doing before he'd been called on the carpet. Their mission was the colonists,
and Bashir's attitude or lack of one was something to be dealt with later.
P"How do you figure?" he finally asked.
P"The contamination is coming from the dilithium itself," Bashir explained,
opening his tricorder. "They didn't want the Dominion to get hold of it."
P"So they destroyed their entire world?" Riker asked. That didn't make a whole
lot of sense. "You said before that the contaminant wasn't native."
P"That doesn't mean it's Dominion, or Cardassian or Breen," Bashir returned.
"It's Andorian for the most part." He handed the tricorder to Riker.
P"Andorian?" Riker repeated, taking the tricorder from him. He studied the
readout which probably didn't tell him as much detail as it did Bashir. He
relied on Geordie and Data, or science officers, for such things. "I still don't
see," he said, more softly, "why they'd turn this moon, their home, into an
uninhabitable rock."
P"Have you ever heard of Masada?" Bashir asked. "A Jewish town, built on the
top of a plateau, defiant against Rome. They fought and withheld the Romans for
a while but were eventually overwhelmed. Rather than be defeated, they committed
suicide. Every last one of them. The Romans found nothing but corpses."
P"But this isn't deadly," Riker said, not so much contradicting him as holding
out hope. "They'd have some time."
PBashir nodded. "Several months. They've got to have holed up someplace.
They'd want the Dominion to give up and leave. Then they could, one would hope,
reverse the contamination and come out of hiding when the air had cleared, so to
speak."
PRiker looked around. There was still no sign of civilization. Wherever the
colonists' cities had been before, they hadn't set their relay up anywhere near
them. The cities wouldn't be much of a hiding place anyway. But the mountains?
There were dark shadows visible in the rock, openings perhaps.
P"Feel like going caving, Doctor?" Riker asked, knowing that the idea wasn't
going to be popular with Bashir. "Let's move out!" he ordered the whole group.
He started back toward the front of the column.
P"Not particularly," Bashir replied behind him. "But it makes the most sense."
PIRight again/I, Riker thought, but this time, it was his own idea that
Bashir was agreeing with. And he had to admit he liked it better that way.
P
HR

PHe wasn't alone. That's what Bashir kept telling himself when he felt the
dread rising within him. He wasn't alone. Not like before. Even if the people he
was with didn't like him, it was better than being cut off from everyone. And
this was temporary, a cave with an opening, possibly more than one. He wouldn't
be locked in.
PAnd there was the familiarity of it, an exact opposite to the dread. A cave
was something he could deal with, something he had dealt with. The darkness
would probably be more disconcerting to the others. It was an interesting
phenomenon to know something could be both comforting and threatening at the
same time. At once a sinister shadow, it called to him like an old friend.
IThey don't know me,/I it said, Ibut you do./I
P"I think I see something," Riker said, pointing his wrist beacon down the
passage. Bashir followed it with his eyes. The wall at the end didn't look quite
right, but then, he had to admit he'd never actually seen his cave. He'd not had
any light.
PBut it was the snap that caught his attention more than that wall. It was
behind him and he spun around too late. The dust was already flying and the
stalactites were coming down. The ground shook and Bashir lost his footing.
Someone screamed but he didn't know the others enough to know the voice.
PA rock hit his left hand where it was braced against the floor. He fell
further, sinking his shoulder into the inch of mud that covered the floor. He
could see that Riker was down, too, and then he couldn't see anymore.
PBut he could hear the furor die down. He could feel the air clearing as the
dust settled. "Is anyone hurt?" he asked, hoping someone could answer. No one
did. A bit of panic snapped at him. He was alone after all.
PAnd then someone coughed. "I'm okay," Riker said, trying to clear the rest of
the dust from his lungs. He yelled for the others, "Strauf? Grierre? Compton?
Enyar?"
PBashir waited, listening for voices. He heard it. "Here, sir." A shout,
muffled and soft, but definite.
P"I hear them," he told Riker.
PRiker was quick to respond, his voice tight and fast. "How many?"
P"Sound off!" Bashir yelled, then he listened carefully to pick out the voices
which seemed so far away. Cut off, he decided, but it was he and Riker who were
farthest into the cave. The voices came back to him one at a time. "Enyar," he
repeated for Riker, "Grierre, and Compton."
P"What about Strauf?"
PBashir listened again, and then reached down for his tricorder. It wasn't
there. "Do you have light?" he asked Riker.
P"Broken," the commander replied.
PSo he would have to find it. The tricorder or maybe Strauf. Using his hands
and knees, and ignoring the sharp pain in his left wrist as he put pressure on
it, he moved forward hoping to find one and not the other. Strauf was too quiet
if he was on this side, insubordinate if he was on the other. Bashir could live
with insubordinate. He didn't like the alternative. He could feel the rocks now,
the stalactites that had fallen. He still hadn't found the tricorder. Then his
fingers brushed against something soft and wet. He explored it a bit more and
found there were others. Fingers and then the whole hand.
P"I found him!" he shouted. "Here." He felt past the hand, but couldn't get to
the wrist. "Strauf!" he shouted again, hoping for a response. But the fingers
didn't move. The wetness was blood. Bashir knew that but he didn't want to give
up hope that Strauf was still alive.
PA hand touched his shoulder. Riker had found him. Bashir took his hand and
led it to Strauf's. "We'll dig him out," Riker ordered.
PBashir removed the rocks he could easily move from around the protruding hand
while Riker started on some higher up. Two or three of the rocks moved and
Bashir could feel the wrist and a little of Strauf's forearm. There was no
pulse, no response to stimuli. "He's dead," Bashir said.
P"You're sure?" This time, Riker didn't sound like he was second-guessing or
even angry with Bashir for being certain. This time he sounded desperate.
P"He's buried, Commander" Bashir explained. "I can't even give him CPR, and we
can't dig him out in time even if he isn't brain dead. He's gone. I'm sorry."
PRiker didn't say anything, and Bashir wondered if he'd decided to be angry
after all. Finally, he spoke, "We have to dig him out anyway, if we want out
ourselves."
PBashir nodded, even knowing Riker couldn't see him. He tried pulling more of
the rocks away. Then he remembered how distant the voices sounded. The wall of
rock cutting he and Riker off from the rest wasn't just a foot or two thick. It
had to be thicker. "Can you see Strauf over there?" he yelled.
P"What are you getting at?" Riker asked. Not angry. In spite of his words to
Riker, he did prefer this way.
P"It's too thick," Bashir answered, listening for the other voices. "They
can't see him. If Strauf isn't protruding out the other side at all. . . ."
P"Then it's at least a meter thick," Riker finished.
P"Maybe more."
PRiker let out a long breath. "Stay put!" he shouted. "We're going to try and
find another way out. If we don't find anything by morning, we'll head back
here. You work on clearing it from your side." He lowered his voice. "Did they
hear that?"
PBashir listened for the acknowledgment. "Yes, sir," he answered.
P"Let's go then," Riker said, and Bashir even felt Riker's hand on his arm,
helping him up. "The way we were headed, at least for now. We might still find
the source of that signal."
PBashir took a small step forward, away from the rocks and Strauf trapped
beneath them. The ground slid beneath him in a familiar way, but he felt
vulnerable out in the open. One needed walls in a place like this. He tried
moving sideways, sliding his feet so that he wouldn't lose his balance, and also
so he might find his tricorder. After a few steps, he felt cool wetness and
solid rock beneath his hand. And something hard at his foot. He knelt down and
touched it. It was larger than his tricorder, with flat sides most of the way
around. His med-kit. He'd forgotten that he'd dropped it, too. At least he still
had his rifle. Now only the tricorder was missing.
P"You still there, Doc?" Riker asked. He was farther away now.
P"Just thought I should find a wall," Bashir answered, letting him know where
he was as well.
P"I had the same thought," Riker returned. "We should keep talking, every
meter or so, so we don't get separated. You on that side, me on this."
P"Yes sir."
PThey moved farther down the passage and Bashir remembered the odd wall he'd
seen before the rocks fell. "What about the wall, Commander? The one you saw
just before. . . ."
P"I don't know," Riker said. "I didn't have a chance to find out anything. Are
you alright in here?"
PBashir hadn't expected that question. Well, not from Riker. Troi, perhaps, if
she'd been there. But not Riker. "Why wouldn't I be?" Bashir answered, hoping to
put him off.
P"Because we just pulled you out of one of these not too long ago."
PBashir wasn't sure then how to proceed. Was he alright? He didn't know. The
rock-fall had changed things, like the cave had gotten one up on him. He was
losing, but also holding his own. He had been prepared to die in that cave if
Data hadn't received his signal. What difference was it really if he died in
this one instead?
P"I'm alright," he answered finally. "It wouldn't be my first choice, but I
was in that cave long enough to get used to it. I'm used to the dark, the cold,
the damp. I hate it, but I'm used to it."
P"I wouldn't like the idea of being trapped in here either," Riker said, "but
I think we're going the right way. That was a booby-trap. I saw the wire just as
Strauf tripped it. Someone didn't want others coming in here. And since it's
where the distress signal seems to originate, I'm hoping it's the colonists."
PBooby-trap. Could the same trap have triggered other explosions, other
rock-falls, to cover other exits? No, they'd want a way out. "There has to be
another way out then," Bashir said.
P"Unless they decided to follow the example of Masada," Riker added.
PBashir hoped that wasn't what had happened. He didn't want to face the
thought of four hundred thousand dead. He also didn't want to give in to the
idea that he was trapped forever, and this time with no replicator. The rock
wall at his fingertips suddenly disappeared and he almost fell over when his
footing slipped. But he caught himself in time.
P"The wall's gone," he said.
P"Mine, too."
P"An intersection," Bashir concluded. "Which way to go?"
P"Forward," Riker said. "I still want to see what was with that wall."
PBashir walked forward then, with his hands out in front of himself, expecting
his fingers to reach the wall. But it didn't happen. What he felt instead was a
soft tingle that moved from his fingers, up past his elbows, and to his
shoulders. "Holographic?" he guessed.
P"That would be a good sign, I think." Riker said. "Let's go through. Slowly."
PBashir moved forward again and the tingle met his nose and chin and slipped
up over his head. Just as quickly, it fell on the back of his ears and over his
shoulders until he was through it. Since it was a holograph, he was hoping to
see light on the other side, but it was just as dark. "You through?" he asked
Riker.
P"Yeah, let's find a wall."
PBashir again found one at his right, assuming that Riker would find one on
his left. "Found one, right angle parallel to the other passage we didn't go
down." The wall was dry and smooth.
P"Wall, to the left and to the front," Riker said. "And this time, there's no
holograph."
P"But there is a breeze." Bashir felt it on the back of his neck as he faced
down the passage.
P"I feel it, too," Riker affirmed. "But it's coming from behind me. There's a
wall there. No passage."
P"But if they were hiding here, they'd want ventilation," Bashir thought out
loud. "There could be a vent up high somewhere. Either way, there would have to
be somewhere for the air to go for it to move like this."
P"Then let's follow it. You stay to the right. I'll take the left."
PThey moved again, following the light current of cool air. They spoke at
times, little things, simple questions and short answers, just to know where
each other were. Bashir still took small steps, but he felt more confident in
his footing since the ground here was not muddy, and it was flat. It was a
man-made tunnel.
P"They must have made this when the war started," he said. "It would have
taken time."
P"Like a bomb shelter in a backyard," Riker agreed. "They just hoped they
wouldn't have to use it."
PBashir took another step and found that there was no ground beneath him. His
center of gravity was already off; there was nothing to reach for. He tried to
shift his weight to his back leg, but he was already falling over into whatever
it was. Then he could smell it. An awful, familiar stench. He was too busy to
take much note of it though. His left arm had flailed out in front of him and
there found ground once again. But it was too smooth, he couldn't hang on, even
with both hands. He was slipping.
P"Commander!" he called out.
P"Bashir?" Riker called back. "Where are you?" To Bashir, he sounded high and
behind. He hadn't fallen, too.
P"There's a hole of some sort. I've fallen. I can't hold on much longer."
P"I'll try and pull you up," Riker spoke quickly, lower now. He'd probably
knelt to find the edge. He let out an involuntary groan. He'd smelt it, too.
P"The other side," Bashir gulped, trying to breathe and hang on at the same
time. The stench was overwhelming and it brought up ghosts from beneath him,
faces he hadn't seen in a long time, names he never knew. Death was waiting at
the bottom of whatever he was falling into. "You can't reach."
PHe was hanging by his fingertips, trying to gain footing with his legs. Then
it suddenly occurred to him that there was little reason not to simply let go.
But his fingers didn't relax. And his left foot found purchase on something
protruding from the wall. It was only big enough for a toe or two, but it was
enough to give him a chance to change his hold on the upper edge.
P"Hold on," Riker said, "I'll try to find a way around."
PBashir didn't plan on waiting, his lungs wanted air, clean air. He had his
footing and he tried to pull himself over the edge. But the little thing,
whatever it was, decided not to hold him after all. It creaked once and then
fell away before Bashir could even register that it had creaked. The foul air
rushed up at him, growing stronger as he fell until it was all there was to
breathe. He hit something jagged and uneven, and it broke beneath him, slowing
his fall.
P
HR

PRiker tried to find a way around the hole, but it seemed to stretch all the
way from one wall to the other. He heard the creak and Bashir's gasp as he fell.
He reached out desperately, knowing it was useless, but hoping just the same.
Then he heard the muffled crash below and the thud as Bashir hit bottom. He also
saw the lights come on down there. He could see Bashir, or part of him, lying on
the bottom. He'd fallen though the ceiling of what looked like a primitive
turbolift. Riker could even see the cabling for it, coiled up on part of the
broken roof.
P"Doctor!" he yelled. "Bashir!" He had to back away to take a breath. Then he
called out again, hoping that Bashir hadn't broken his neck, that he hadn't been
impaled on some bit of construction torn asunder. The fall alone was only twenty
meters or so, allowing the possibility that he could have survived. "Doctor!"
But there was no answer, no further sound.
PRiker looked up and saw that there was cabling there, too, more or less. It
was hung on either side of the shaft, at floor level, within reach if Bashir
could have seen it. Each cable was frayed where it had come loose from the car
down below. But that was only one end. The other end was anchored to the ground,
wrapped around a pulley system. Riker reached out and grabbed the cable closest
to him and pulled on it to get some slack. It took putting all his weight
against it to move it and he hoped that meant it would hold him if he climbed
down the other way. He could just reach that side of the cable if he stretched
out all the way. But then he didn't have the leverage he needed to pull on it.
He couldn't test it. Not from this side.
PHe studied the pulley, thankful for the light below. The pulley was large and
it protruded perhaps four centimeters beyond the wall. He stood and tested it
with one foot, slowly putting more weight on it. It held. The other side of the
shaft was less than two meters away. The pulley was halfway across. He could
step over.
POf course, he could also fall. The pulley was oiled. He'd felt his foot
slipping even as he tested it.
PStill, it would only take a second. Bashir hadn't known about the shaft,
hadn't seen the pulleys. He'd been taken by surprise. Riker could see
everything. He had an advantage. And he'd only need a foothold for a fraction of
a second.
PThat decided, he stepped as close as he could to the edge of the shaft and
placed his left foot on the pulley. He took a deep breath and prepared himself.
IOn the count of three,/I he thought to himself. IOne, two, .damn./I The
light had winked out below.
P"Doctor!" he called again, wanting Bashir to be alive so that he could move
and trip the sensors again to turn the lights on. No answer and no light. No
matter. Riker had made his decision. He knew his course of action and trusted
his memory to show him where the edge was on the other side.
P"Three," he said to no one in particular. He put his weight on the pulley and
swung his other leg over. It found solid ground and he threw himself forward,
landing with a thud on the floor.
PHe hadn't seen much beyond the other side of the shaft, where he now stood,
except that the passage continued. He turned back to the shaft and tracing the
wall with his hand, he found the cable again. He pulled, and it slipped right
out of the pulley.
P"No," he complained aloud. That shouldn't have happened. The cable should
have supported the weight of the turbolift car in both directions. It shouldn't
just release. But there it was, thick and heavy, hanging loose in his hand. He
yanked it up, thinking it might still somehow be useful, if he could anchor it
to something.
PIn the meantime, he moved to the other side of the passage and tucked the
cable under his knee. He tried the second cable, but the main pulley seemed to
fall away. Riker heard it crash into the turbolift car below and hoped it didn't
hit Bashir. The lights, obviously tied to motion sensors, obediently winked on
when the pulley hit.
PRiker used the light to survey his surroundings as far as he could. The walls
were smooth and plain. No light fixtures, no protrusions at all. Nothing to
anchor the cable to so that he could climb down. He squinted, trying to see
further down the passage. It appeared to angle off to the left. It was hard to
tell though, since little light filtered out of the shaft. He could see the
ceiling well enough. There were protrusions there, but he couldn't reach them.
PThere was nothing else to do. Waiting here and shouting weren't doing any
good. Bashir was either dead or unconscious. Riker decided he had only two
options left. He could continue down the passage, with the cable, hoping to find
an anchor before the cable was so far out of the shaft that it would do him no
good. He could also just keep going, hoping to find an alternate route to where
Bashir was. Either way, he had to leave the shaft.
PStill, he felt he had to try once more before giving up. "Doctor Bashir!" The
lights were still on, and Bashir still wasn't moving. The lights winked out, and
that was that. Riker picked up the cable he had tucked under his knee and turned
his back to the shaft. He used one hand to guide himself along the left wall and
around the next corner.
P
HR

PBashir's nose twitched but he wasn't aware of it. He was aware, though, of
the sticky wetness against his cheek. That was nothing new, his mind told him.
The cave floor was muddy. There was nowhere else to sleep. Sloan hadn't left him
a bed. Still, he was becoming more and more uncomfortable and he wondered why he
hadn't chosen a better spot, one that wasn't as lumpy. His nose twitched again
and by this time, he was becoming aware of the smell. It brought him more into
consciousness, told him of the pain he felt. His head, his arm, his ribs. He
flexed his fingers to try and find his hands, and his eyelids were bombarded
with light. Light.
PHe opened his eyes and found another face looking back at him with cloudy
eyes and open mouth. A small white worm squiggled out past the lips and fell to
the floor. Bashir bolted upright and the movement sent waves of lightning
through his head. He fell back again but saw what it was he'd fallen on and
jerked back up. Bodies. Bodies beneath him, beside him, behind him. He stood,
and fell again to his knees. Even then he had to put a hand down, but that shot
pain through his wrist. He willed himself upright even though his head spun.
PHe couldn't breathe. The stench was so strong his lungs wanted to shut down
rather than draw it in. Death smelled like that. He'd smelt death before.
PIt made him dizzy to raise his head and look out across the room he was in,
but he did it anyway. There were more. They were everywhere. Women and men,
human and Andorian, Vulcan and other species. A thousand, maybe ten thousand,
maybe more. He couldn't count.
PHe slumped to his heels where at least he wasn't sitting on anyone. "They
can't feel it, you know." It was a quiet voice, from behind him. Bashir spun his
head around, too late realizing that he knew the voice and that no one would be
there. No one real anyway. Vla. Vla had died a long time ago.
P"I know," Bashir whispered, unable to raise his voice in the presence of the
dead. "It's just . . . ."
P"We saw it everyday," Vla argued. "I woke up beside one of them more times
than I can count, and I wasn't there as long as you were."
P"As long as Max," Bashir agreed. Max had survived more than two years in the
camps. Bashir less than two months. Vla less than that.
PVla nodded to him. Bashir saw it and realized he'd never seen Max or
Szymon when he'd hallucinated them in the cave. There would been no light then.
Vla was fully visible, still dressed in stripes, his head shaved, his skin
pallid. His eyes were cloudy, too.
P"You'll be alright," Vla said. "Someone's coming for you. Just wait." Then
he turned and walked away.
P
HR

PMartok paced around Sisko's office while the captain merely sat unmoving in
his chair. "What do they need dilithium for?" the General bellowed. His Bird of
Prey had fought off another attack that morning. That brought the total to six
separate attacks by Dominion forces.
P"We don't know," Sisko offered in quiet response. "Garak has been decrypting
transmissions all week and no one is even mentioning dilithium."
PMartok noted that Sisko wasn't even watching him pace. He listened and
answered but he stared at the wall. The General dropped himself into a chair and
thought about the captain's response. "Do you think they know we're decoding
their transmissions?"
P"It's possible," Sisko replied. "It wouldn't be the first time one side has
fed another false information during a war. If they know-and if they'd don't,
I'd say it's an oversight on their part they might want to keep Garak busy with
useless information rather than tip us off."
P"But this is only the dilithium issue," Martok argued. "Garak's information
has been accurate for the most part. Until now."
PSisko nodded. "I suppose we'll just have to wait and see if he's accurate
again."
P
HR

PThe corridor had finally angled downward. It had also turned, finally, back
in the direction of the shaft. Riker held one hand pressed against the cavern's
smooth wall and the other covering his nose. The stench he thought he'd smelled
over the shaft had been steadily increasing as he tracked his way to where
Bashir had fallen. He hoped.
PAt his next step, light flooded his eyes, causing him to raise his hand to
shield them. He estimated that he'd been in the cave for less than an hour, so
it didn't take long for his eyes to adjust.
PBut, just as he hadn't been prepared for the light, he wasn't prepared for
what it now allowed him to see. A body-no, more than one-lying on the floor,
blocking the entrance to a larger corridor. The faces were unrecognizable,
marred already by decay and the ravages of insects. This was the source of the
stench and Captain Picard's worst fear for the colony. The inhabitants were
dead. Riker could only hope that the few he saw here were selfless defenders,
those who held off attack while the others escaped. He also hoped that Bashir
hadn't joined then. Riker may not have liked him or what he was, but he didn't
want him dead. He was still a member of his crew.
PRiker moved forward, trying to avoid the bodies and anything leaking out of
them. Bashir was farther back, deeper in. He had to keep going. He could hardly
breathe and he had to fight the need he felt to vomit.
PHe stepped over the body that blocked his path and turned the corner into the
next corridor. The corridor itself was rather pleasant and completely
uncavelike, no different in quality than the corridor's of the
IEnterprise/I, bolstering his hopes that the slaughter had been minimal. The
stench, though, refused to stay behind with the bodies he'd passed.
PAnother corner. Another body. And another. This corridor branched off into
smaller hallways and rooms, some of the doors held open by a fallen corpse. He
tried to ignore the bodies and concentrate on the rooms. Bashir might be injured
. . . and they might both be stuck in the cave longer than either would like.
The rooms might contain useful supplies.
PSeveral of the rooms were actually suites of quarters, small and cramped.
Riker estimated there was enough space-bunks and storage-for twenty, with five
bedrooms and a common area. No replicators, no immediate supplies. And,
thankfully, no more bodies.
PHe also found a small classroom of sorts. The computer there was functional
but contained little of value. No communications, no sensors, or schematics of
the underground facility.
PThere was another door on the left wall. Riker was surprised, when he opened
it, to see trees and hear the soft babble of a stream. The floor was soil and
grass. Even the light overhead was soft and warm like a late-afternoon sun. But
Riker was well aware that he was still deep beneath the surface of the mountain.
It was an artificial arboretum, and it bolstered Bashir's theory that the
colonists had contaminated their own environment. This was their preserve, and
Riker could only see two walls from where he was standing. One held the door
through which he'd passed. The other, to his left had to face the corridor.
PThe main priority was finding Bashir, not exploring the cave, so Riker made
his way to the second wall. There were bodies here, scattered sporadically
between the trees. He found the wall and two large cargo doors that opened,
revealing the corridor and another set of doors. Those doors were already open,
and they provided, perhaps, the most horrific scene he'd ever witnessed.
PHere the corpses were not scattered here and there. They were packed in
tight, spilling from the large room beyond the doorway. They were laid close to
each other, even stacked four high in some cases. And that was just what he
could see with the light from the corridor.
PHe couldn't breathe. There was no air but that which carried the stench of so
many rotting corpses. He felt the bile rise up in his throat, and this time he
couldn't keep it down. He retched there in the corridor. When his stomach was
empty, he still stood coughing, which only forced him to inhale more of the foul
stench. And that caused him to heave again.
PHe couldn't go in. He couldn't even lean inside the doorway to trigger the
lights. He didn't want to see anymore.
PBut the lights came on for him and he froze. Someone was alive. And then his
mind reasoned that this was the direction of the shaft. Bashir had fallen into
the horror.
P"Doctor!" he called out and felt the volume and the voice an abomination to
what he saw before him. The bodies filled the room, from wall to wall, and oozed
from death wounds and decay. "Bashir! Can you hear me?"
PThere was no answer and Riker began to realize he'd have to go in there. He
didn't want to, and his mind looked for loopholes. He could be wrong about the
shaft. It was farther down. A rodent could have tripped the lights.
PBut somehow, his legs moved anyway, and he had to set his mind to trying to
find footing between the bodies. There was no floor to be seen, and when his
feet could find it, it was slippery and sticky and wet. He had made it perhaps
five meters in before he vomited again, and this time there was nothing to hold
on to. When he could open his eyes again, he took a few more steps and could
then see around the protruding corner on his left where the remains of a light
turbolift lay among the remains of the people. Bashir sat on his ankles, so
still that Riker began to doubt that he had tripped the lights after all.
P"They killed the children first."
PHe'd spoken softly, but it wasn't hard to hear in the silence. Riker tried to
ignore the words for now and concentrate on the speaker. He was still several
meters away, but he looked alright, considering his fall. There was filth,
debris from the dead, on his uniform in places, and he was holding his left
wrist in such a way that Riker assumed it was injured. His face, what Riker
could see of it, was ashen, but Riker was sure that he was quite pale himself.
On the whole, Bashir looked alright.
PStill, when he spoke, he kept his voice low. "Doctor, why didn't you answer
when I called?"
PAt first, Bashir made no move to show that he'd heard at all. Then he turned
toward Riker, just a little but just enough for Riker to see the red that
covered the other side of his face. He turned back and continued as if he hadn't
been interrupted. "Slaughtered them one at a time while their parents watched
and tossed them in a stack against the wall. Then the women. But no one would
talk."
PRiker followed Bashir's gaze to see a large pile of small corpses stacked
haphazardly against the opposite wall. His knees began to feel weak and he had
to grab the wall for support. Children, just like Bashir had said. He looked
down at his feet. Women. It had been men nearer the door.
P"Wouldn't tell them what?" he asked not really expecting an answer or even to
be heard.
P"How to undo it, how to put the dilithium back the way it was."
PRiker wanted to ask him if that was even possible, but then he remembered the
blood on Bashir's face. "We have to get out of here," he said, turning back to
Bashir. "Do you still have your medkit?"
PBashir slowly looked around himself and spotted the bag, such as it was, a
few feet away. He tried to reach for it with his good hand but nearly lost his
balance and had to brace himself against the floor, only the floor was covered
in bodies and filth. His hand landed on what appeared to be an arm. He balked
and brought it up again. Riker couldn't see his face, but he could read the
anguish in the way his head hung and his shoulders shook.
PRiker tried to move quickly to help him, but his movements only caused
himself to slip and fall to his knees in the muck. There really was nothing left
in his stomach, but it didn't stop his muscles from trying. It was on his
clothes, on his skin, the decay of others. He had to leave and that meant that
he had to get to Bashir. It wasn't easy but he managed to get to his feet
without the use of his hands. Bashir was still staring at his hand. Troi had
said he was unemotional. She was wrong. He just needed something horrific enough
to bring it out.
P"I never wanted to see this again," he whispered, and it sounded like a plea.
PAgain? "I never wanted to see it ever," Riker replied. He straddled one of
the bodies between Bashir and his medkit and bent over to pick up the bag. The
strap was sticky and wet, but Riker ignored it and threw it over his shoulder.
He grabbed Bashir under the arms and hauled him to his feet. Bashir swayed a
bit, but didn't fight him as Riker led him back out the large cargo doors.
PBy contrast, the air in the corridor was much cleaner, and Riker almost felt
like he could breathe again. He led Bashir across the corridor and into the
arboretum. There were bodies here, but they were fewer, stragglers maybe or
defenders who tried to stop the enemy from reaching the rest of the population.
There was room to walk here, grass and trees and life. Riker needed to see life,
and he guessed Bashir did, too. There was also water where maybe they could wash
away some of the death.
PRiker pulled him to the stream and helped him to the ground. At first Bashir
didn't move, and Riker realized that he was probably in shock-or he'd just hit
his head too hard. Riker knelt down beside him and turned Bashir's face toward
the light. There was a gash from his temple to his ear, but he had no idea how
serious the injury was.
P"You're bleeding," he said, hoping he could get Bashir thinking again.
PIt worked. "My head hurts," the doctor replied.
PRiker braced Bashir's chest and forced him to lean forward until he could see
his own reflection in the stream. Bashir raised his good hand toward his temple
but stopped. He held it up to look at it and then placed both of them in the
stream and began to wash them.
PRiker did the same and then pulled off his jacket. "It's about the only clean
thing between us," he explained as he tore the soiled sleeves away from the
vest. It wasn't as easy as it looked when others did it, especially with wet
hands. When he'd finally gotten them loose, he placed his ineffective comm badge
on his undershirt and handed the vest to Bashir, who dipped it in the water and
started to clean the blood from the side of his face.
P"Concussion?" he asked Bashir.
P"Possible," he replied, "cracked ribs, fractured wrist, too many bruises."
P"Could be worse," Riker commented. He held up the bag. "What do you need?"
He'd have to wash his hands again.
PBashir looked, but he didn't appear relieved by its presence. He even
frowned. "Tricorder."
P"How about a dermal regenerator?" Riker bargained.
PBashir nodded and took the instrument. Using his reflection in the water, he
began to heal the gash on the side of his face. He had to lean forward and
almost fell once. He instinctively set his other hand down and grimaced sharply.
But he didn't fall and within a few minutes, the gash was gone. Bashir started
to pull off his own jacket, which was in worse shape than Riker's. He'd fallen
right into the bodies, Riker realized, which, awful as that was, probably saved
him from further injury.
P"I saw some quarters a few rooms back," Riker said. "I think we can be
forgiven for being out of uniform under the circumstances. Will you be alright
here?"
PBashir hesitated a bit and then nodded and went back to tending his wrist.
He'd pulled his shirt sleeve back, and Riker caught a glimpse of a strange
tattoo. It looked like numbers and poorly written ones at that.
P"You don't seem the type for tattoos," Riker commented before leaving.
P"Wasn't by choice," Bashir answered.
PThough he was curious about that, Riker let it go. Not even wanting to look
at the large meeting room, he left through the classroom.
P
HR

PBashir clenched his jaw and folded his body over his knees when he felt the
bone on his wrist pop back into place. His wrist burned from the pain, and the
fetal position was straining his ribs. Then he remembered that the stream was
there and that the water was cold. Straightening as much as possible, he plunged
his hand into the water. It wasn't cold enough to numb the pain, but after a few
minutes it had fallen to more bearable level. He could use his instruments then
to heal the fracture.
PHe still wished for the tricorder. There could be internal injuries or
infection-very likely under the circumstances. His head still ached, and
considering that he'd been unconscious-and that Vla had come for a visit-a
concussion was likely. All he could do at this point was give himself some
antibiotics and wrap his ribs, provided he could find anything to wrap them
with.
PNow that he felt a little better, he could see better his surroundings. A
stream wasn't unusual, but the trees, grass, and light seemed out of place. He
couldn't remember how he'd gotten injured or how he'd ended up among the dead
people. He did remember the moon, the transmission, and a cave. The people he
could understand, and he knew who killed them and why. But this did not look
like a cave.
P"It's still a cave."
PBashir had expected Riker, but the voice was too young. And he didn't think
Riker was telepathic. Still, he wasn't altogether surprised to see Vla
watching him from across the stream.
P"You look better now," the young man said.
P"Miracle of modern medicine," Bashir mumbled.
P"You could have used that before," the boy noted. "You could have helped the
man in the train. Or yourself."
P"It wouldn't have helped," Bashir replied, realizing the futility of healing
anyone on a train to Auschwitz.
P"You could have helped Andrzej," Vla held, staring him right in the eyes.
PHis cousin. Bashir couldn't look away, and he couldn't turn away from the
what-if scenario Vla had just presented him with. Given modern instruments,
he might have healed Andrzej's leg, which might have kept him from being
immediately selected for the gas. Maybe having family would have helped Vl
maybe he wouldn't have felt he had to sell himself for food. Maybe he would have
survived as Max did.
PVla took the rest of the thought away. "Sometimes, I think it's better he
never got the number. He didn't see what we saw."
PIWorse,/I Bashir thought, remembering with a shudder that sent pain to
his ribs. IJust for a shorter time./I He let his gaze fall to the water. It
wasn't that he'd forgotten. He could never forget. Those particular memories had
subsided somewhat to a deeper part of his mind. Seeing the slaughter had brought
them forward again. And probably Vla, too. "Not better," he finally said,
"just different."
P"What's different?"
PBashir looked up, not at Riker who had spoken, but at the patch of weeds on
the other side of the creek where Vla had been sitting. He cursed himself for
speaking out loud. "I have a head injury, " he said, too quickly. He'd sound
defensive.
PRiker showed no sign of scorn. "I realize that," he stated. He was carrying
two bundles of cloth, one of which he now laid on the ground near Bashir. "So
who was it? Max, . . . Simon?"
P"Szymon," Bashir corrected.
P"From the cave?"
PHe wondered why Riker would be so interested in his hallucinations. But at
least he seemed to accept that it was the head injury that caused them. "Vla.
Not from the cave. From the camp."
PRiker's brow furrowed as he sat down to take off his shoes. "The camp?"
PBashir still felt like he had to defend his sanity. "They're real people, or
they were. I don't make them up."
P
HR

PRiker set his shoes down and gave Bashir his full attention. He remembered
what Bashir had said earlier about not wanting to see this, the slaughter,
again.
P"What happened to him?" he asked. "The Jem'Hadar killed him?"
PBashir's eyebrows pulled down in the middle. "The Jem'Hadar? No. Vla
killed himself."
P"Oh," Riker replied, as if he understood. He didn't. But he didn't
necessarily like the idea of Bashir hallucinating someone who committed suicide.
It was a bit too pessimistic. They didn't need pessimism right now. They needed
optimism.
PBashir must have caught his misgivings because he defended Vla, whoever he
was. "He had every right. Every reason. You can't know. You weren't there."
PRiker didn't want to argue about the hallucinatory person, but he was even
more confused now. He knew Bashir had been a prisoner of the Jem'Hadar, but he'd
seemed adamant the Jem'Hadar weren't the cause. "Who was he?" Riker asked,
keeping his voice soft to try and calm the doctor.
P"A young man," Bashir answered, settling back down. "We were on the same
train."
PITrain?/I Riker thought.
P"I barely knew him," Bashir continued. "But I had promised his cousin I'd
watch him."
PApparently he thought he hadn't done a very good job. Was it guilt that made
him hallucinate the boy instead of someone else? "What happened?"
PRiker was surprised by the answer, said so easily and lightly as if it were
nothing. "I was tortured," Bashir said, "and then I was transferred to another
block. I didn't even know he'd died. Max didn't tell me."
PSo Max was from the camp-whichever one that was-, too. And how had he found
out, if Max had kept it from him? "Why did he kill himself?"
PBashir shrugged and then pointed back the way they'd come. "Too much of that,
maybe. Too much death. Too much suffering. He reached his limit and found a
quicker way out." He started to pick up the clothes Riker had almost forgotten
he'd brought. "He likely wouldn't have lasted anyway. Max was the only one of us
who did."
PBashir was talking, perhaps more than he had for Troi, but the more he said,
the more confused Riker became. How could Max be the only one to survive when
Bashir was sitting right there? "You lasted."
PBashir started to take off his jacket. "Then why is my name on file at the
Holocaust Museum in Washington? I was gassed along with the others."
PHolocaust. That explained the tattoo, the camp, the train. "Not by choice,"
Riker repeated Bashir's earlier words out loud. "How?" he asked, feeling as if
he were prying but unable to stop.
PBashir had changed into the clean shirt and was trying to stand to change his
trousers. He swayed a bit and Riker stooped to help keep him steady.
"Changeling. Evil, sadistic, warped changeling," he replied, and nothing about
those words were easy.
PRiker was curious to know more, but he also felt he needed to diffuse the
situation. "Ah," he said. "For us, it was the Borg. Some of us were on the ship,
fighting it out. But I was on the IPhoenix/I with Zephram Cochran."
P"I haven't had much luck with time travel. The first time I ended up in the
Bell Riots of 2024."
P"You should probably stick with this century," Riker said, helping Bashir
back down. He fished Bashir's comm badge from his discarded and soiled uniform.
PBashir took it and put it on. "Haven't had much luck with that either."
P"Surely some of it's been good," Riker offered as he changed his own clothes.
"Back on DS Nine perhaps."
P"It's hard to see that now," Bashir replied. He was staring down into the
stream.
PRiker waited until he had his shoes on. "Well," he said, standing and
offering his hand to the doctor, "that will be a little easier once we're out of
this cave."
PBashir stood, with a wince, but his brow furrowed. "Did we find the source of
the transmission?"
PMemory gaps. Not the best of signs, but probably not unexpected either. "You
mean before you fell three stories down a turbolift shaft? No."
P"I did?" Bashir said, probably to himself.
PRiker nodded and then refocused on what was before them. He hesitated. It was
easier here, with the doors closed, the trees and grass.
P"I've been through all the rooms back that way." He pointed back toward the
classroom. He let the rest go and took a few steps toward the large doors. They
were here, too, in the grass, among the trees. Riker kept his head up, trying
not to see them. But when he looked back to see if Bashir was following, the
doctor's gaze was down, looking each one in the face. His chin quivered ever so
slightly, and Riker wondered if he was seeing his friends more than these
strangers.
P
HR

PHe still felt dizzy, but he could walk. He hadn't expected to see them here
in the arboretum, but it wasn't so much of a surprise. Only so many people could
fall in that one room. Their faces had already started to decay, but he looked
anyway. Someone should bear witness. Someone should remember.
PThe large door opened, and both he and Riker took an involuntary step back
against the wave of foul air that rushed in at them. The bile rose in Bashir's
throat, and he pushed it down again. He told himself this was nothing new. But
it was. Auschwitz had been death and corpses-and it had had the smoke. But, in
the time he was there, it never had the concentration, the bodies left to rot in
such close quarters. The closest was probably the train, where the bodies were
not removed at all during the trip.
PRiker moved off to the right, and Bashir followed, trying to construct a
lifelike face for each corpse that he saw. Most here in the corridor were young,
and they'd fallen in such postures to suggest they'd tried to fight the
onslaught of Jem'Hadar. Some wore crisp uniforms, stained now, but once
immaculate. Security, Bashir guessed.
PThey went into each room, and Bashir was relieved to see the number of bodies
taper off as they left the large room behind them. He could still smell them,
and, if he closed his eyes, he could count every one of them from memory.
PThere were more quarters here, a chapel, a large washroom where he and Riker
helped themselves to soap, and a hydroponics facility. After another hour they
found the medical bay-if it could be called that. It was no bigger than a
closet, but it had a biochair, stacks of supplies, and, more importantly, a
working replicator.
PBashir scanned the shelves that lined the walls and started filling his
medkit with bandages and medicines.
PBehind him, Riker worked at the replicator. "Here," he said, touching
Bashir's shoulder. He handed the new tricorder he held to Bashir and motioned to
the biochair. "Check yourself out. I'll be right back."
PBashir wondered where he was going, and had a brief moment of panic. It
passed quickly enough once he reasoned that Riker had had plenty of time to
leave him behind while he was unconscious.
PAvoiding his left wrist, he sat down. The biochair and the instruments around
it lit up and hummed to life. He unfolded the tricorder and took note of the
results. Three cracked ribs but no major internal injuries.
P"How is it?" Riker asked, having returned with a bag. He went straight to the
replicator and started replicating field rations.
PBashir's stomach turned at just the thought. "I won't eat that," he stated,
ignoring Riker's question.
PRiker stopped and turned fully around to face him. "We didn't expect to get
stuck down here. We're all going to get hungry."
PBashir pushed himself off the biochair. The sudden change in altitude made
him dizzy, and, for a moment, he thought he saw Vla beckoning to him
anxiously from the door. Bashir spoke to Riker. "I'd rather starve."
PIn front of him Riker blew out a long breath. His voice was quiet, his words
carefully chosen. "There's a reason they chose Starfleet rations for your
replicator."
P"Commander," Bashir replied, choosing his own words, "I'm a doctor. Please
don't lecture me on their nutritional value."
PAnother long breath. "I would have thought, with your background, you'd never
want to go hungry again."
P"Some things are worse than death."
PRiker smiled, "Starfleet field rations?" he asked, chuckling slightly.
PBashir smiled, too, realizing it sounded silly, but he wasn't about to back
down. "Among other things. Besides, we're not entirely without alternatives."
PRiker threw his hands up. "Okay," he said, still grinning, "you win. Meals
are your responsibility." He handed Bashir the bag, and the smile disappeared.
"Now answer my question. How's your head?"
P"Mild concussion," Bashir replied as he and Riker tried to trade positions in
the confined space. "It could have been worse."
PHe started punching in commands to the replicator. It churned to life and he
brushed the resulting rations into the bag. Even the weight of the half-filled
bag caused soreness in his wrist, so he made one last request to the replicator
and threw the bag over his shoulder.
P"Ready?"
PBashir wrapped his wrist with the splint he'd just created and turned to go.
"Ready."
PRiker held out a hand to take the bag, and they stepped back out into the
corridor.
PThey went on as they had before, checking each room, each crossing corridor.
Fortunately for them (though not for the colonists) most of the cross-corridors
only branched off in one direction. There was one though that went to the left.
Riker decided then that they would split up and meet back in fifteen minutes.
Riker took the right, and Bashir moved off to the left.
PThe left corridor wasn't much different from the main one from what he could
see. More rooms like all the others, more storage rooms with supplies for the
colonists.
PHe was in one of those rooms when Vla came to him again. He stood in the
door as Bashir turned to go. "I heard something," he said. "Someone's here."
P"I didn't hear anything," Bashir told him. Vla had to be mistaken.
P"I still hear it," Vla held. "Up ahead." He pointed down the corridor in
the direction Bashir was progressing. He kept looking in that direction, and
Bashir wasn't sure if the boy was concerned or afraid. Then he left, heading
toward whatever he'd heard.
PCurious, Bashir stepped out the door, but Vla had disappeared. He closed
his eyes and listened carefully but heard nothing but silence. He opened his
eyes, and Vla was waving at him from three doors down.
PBashir gave a moment's thought to the two rooms he'd be skipping, but Vla
called, with urgency in his voice, "This way. In here!" Then he tucked himself
back inside the door.
PThe door was closed, but it opened as Bashir approached. This room was
different than the others. It was noisy, for one thing, and one wall was lined
in machines. He wondered why would Vla have drawn him to this. And he
wondered how Vla had managed to hear what he himself had not. The room was
apparently soundproof, since he'd heard nothing before opening the door.
PHe studied the machines and the pipes and cables leading away from them along
the ceiling. The largest controlled power to the cave. He could even pull up a
schematic of the entire complex. Another controlled the water supply, using the
stream as the source and then channeling the water through pipes to all the
washrooms, the main assembly, and the medical area. The third managed
ventilation and filtration and utilized the largest of the pipes-ventilation
ducts-overhead.
PIWe only have to follow the air,/I he thought. They could trace the ducts
back to their source. But as he visually traced it upward from the machine, it
led directly into the wall next to a large screen-covered vent.
PHe went back to the power grid and, by comparing it to the water schematic,
began to get a sense of the cavern's layout. Riker said he fell down a turbolift
shaft. He found the shaft and some sort of doorway a short distance from it on
the upper level. He didn't remember a doorway, but that had to be the way he and
Riker had entered. That way was blocked. He did remember Strauf's death.
PSo he went back down to the lower level and his present position. If there
was another way out, it would be away from the turbolift. The doorway above was
unusual in that it drew more power than four ordinary doors. There was another
such drain at the end of the corridor, though he hadn't seen anything from the
corridor except an ordinary wall. Still, it was the only other such door. It had
to be the exit.
P
HR

P"They've been gone for hours."
PGrierre was, for the most part, ignoring the chatter. The others were bored.
He would have been, too, if he wasn't in command. He'd been in command only a
handful of other occasions, and then for only short periods of time. He hadn't
prepared himself for this. IYou're a Starfleet officer,/I he chided, Iin
war, no less. You should always be ready./I
PSo much for slogans. He wasn't ready, even if there were only two others
under his command. When they'd beamed down they were twenty, and he wasn't
second or even third banana. IThey/I had been sent to lead the other two
groups. Hell, he hadn't even been second in this group. The new doctor had
seniority. Strauf, too, by a month.
PStrauf. Grierre glanced back over his shoulder at the pile of rocks that had
buried his friend. They'd tried to clear the rocks, but more fell from above
when they did. Strauf would have to stay.
PHe would have been better, Grierre decided. He hadn't felt the need to
prepare before taking charge. He had said he thrived on the adrenaline.
P"Maybe we should look for an alternate exit."
P"We're on a mountain. There could be a dozen openings that don't even lead to
the same passages."
PGrierre half-listened and was content to let them discuss it.
PThen Enyar stood. "It's better than just sitting here." He started toward the
mouth of the cave where Grierre was sitting.
PThe movement roused Grierre from his self-consciousness, if not from his
self-doubts. "Commander Riker said to stay put, so we stay put." Actually, he'd
ordered them to dig their way in, but they'd tried that. What had fallen was too
heavy to lift, and phasers only caused more to fall.
PEnyar stopped and looked down at him. "Grierre-"
PGrierre stood, too, and met his gaze. "Lieutenant Grierre," he corrected.
"And we're going to hold position here so the commander can find us."
PEnyar was annoyed that he'd pulled rank. He was a lieutenant, too, and they'd
often worked the same shift. "We're not the ones who are lost, sir."
PGrierre kept his patience. "No, but we're their point of reference."
P"If we go poking into openings, we'll likely all end up lost," Compton added,
again a voice of reason.
PEnyar didn't look happy, but he lost the combative tone. "So we just sit
here?"
PGrierre sat down again and let his sight rest on the murky valley below. "We
just sit here."
P
HR

PO'Brien lifted the cover in one big motion. Dust flew into the air and he
sneezed, but beneath the cover and the settling dust, the Alamo waited. He'd
almost had it destroyed. He was glad now that he hadn't. Keiko wasn't happy that
the model was back in the living room. He could tell, though she hadn't said so.
She wouldn't deny him now that Julian was coming back. At least not for a few
weeks.
PThere were a few sections that needed recementing, but otherwise the Alamo
was in good shape. Which was good, considering the price he'd had to pay Quark
to store it, even with the Julian Bashir memorial discount. Of course, the
discount had been revoked upon the news that Julian was not really dead. Quark
had forced O'Brien to pay back rent just to get the model out of storage.
O'Brien argued and haggled, but in the end, he paid. Friendship didn't have a
price.
PHe spent two hours just counting all the little figures. He started with the
nondescript ones: Mexican soldiers, unnamed Texans. They were easy enough. And
they seemed to be all there. Then he'd searched for each of the characters, the
named historical figures: Santa Anna, Jim Bowie, Davey Crockett and the others.
The last one he found was Colonel Travis, Julian's character.
P
HR

PThey'd fought the battle of the Alamo hundreds of times. And Julian had come
close a few of them. But still Santa Anna had won. O'Brien had kept the model up
after Julian disappeared, but he'd removed it once the word came that he'd died.
All of it. Except for Travis. Travis had gone to the bedroom, into the little
box where O'Brien kept his mother's ring. He'd forgotten he'd put it there. He'd
forgotten.
PHe should have tried harder, he told himself. When Julian was just missing,
he hadn't done anything to try and find him. He didn't ask Captain Sisko for a
runabout to track him down. He didn't pester Odo to keep looking for clues when
he closed the investigation. He didn't question the report of Bashir's death, as
his wife had five years before. Then it had been aliens reporting his and
Bashir's death, this time it was Starfleet. Why question Starfleet?
PBecause they'd lied or been lied to. Julian was alive, marooned alone in a
cave for nearly six months. He'd been kidnapped from his own quarters and taken
by Section 31 with no one to stop them. No one did anything to stop them. Odo
couldn't find a trace of the transporter or of anyone else's presence in
Bashir's quarters. The sensors didn't detect a transport. There were no
unidentified ships in the area. Starfleet Intelligence identified the body, and
the investigation was officially closed. And no one questioned it. No one who
knew Julian had requested to view the body. No autopsy was performed.
PLooking back, O'Brien realized how easy it would have been. They'd only have
had to look at the body's left arm. Julian had kept his number tattoo. Or his
left hand, for the reconstructed bones. A DNA test. Julian's DNA was on file at
Starfleet Medical. All it would have taken was someone to push for a DNA test.
No one did. Not even Julian's best friend.
PHell, O'Brien had felt relieved just to have closure. They probably all had.
Three months ago they'd sent a fake Julian Bashir to his final rest, and they
felt better just to have their uncertainty taken away. They missed him, sure. It
hurt, but they had gone on. They could go on. Someone somewhere declared Bashir
dead, and they'd all breathed a sigh of relief. They could stop looking, stop
worrying, and get on with the mourning.
PThey'd given up. O'Brien had given up. He'd given up while Julian was still
trying to decide if he should wager starvation on coaxing a replicator into
transmitting a message to an android he had no idea how to locate. It was like
he'd acknowledged Santa Anna's red flag. And O'Brien might as well have been
Santa Anna.
PIt wasn't dusty, but O'Brien dusted Colonel Travis off anyway, and placed him
carefully along the East Wall. The others he left in a pile. Travis was the one
that mattered.
P
HR

PIt had been six hours since the Enterprise had lost contact with the away
team, and five hours since Geordi and Data began to modify the probe. The probe
worked on the same carrier frequency as the colony's distress signal which even
now was still penetrating the kertimide cloud that swallowed up all other
transmissions. The distress signal had to be abnormally strong, Geordi had
explained, and it would take time and a lot of creativity to build a transceiver
inside the probe that could match that strength. Picard was getting anxious, and
had just called for the third time to inquire about their progress. He didn't
mean to micromanage, but there was something about the situation on the moon
that unnerved him.
P"We've got it figured out, Captain," Geordi replied, sounding more excited
than annoyed. "It's just a matter of pulling it all together now."
P"How long do you estimate?"
P"Hour, hour and a half tops."
P"Good to hear," Picard said, though he'd hoped for sooner. "Keep up the good
work, Commander. Picard out." So he was back to waiting.
P
HR

PRiker checked the time and scanned down the main corridor, trying to decide
if Bashir would disobey orders and go on without him or if he'd just lost track
of the time. Taking a gamble that it was the latter, he started down the left
corridor. He moved quickly, assuming Bashir had already scouted out the earliest
ones. He paused at each room only long enough for the door to open. He glanced
in, called Bashir's name, and, when he saw and heard nothing, he stepped back
and let the door close again.
PIt was the eleventh door, sixth on the right, that made him pause. There were
no beds or wardrobes here, no shelves for storage. There was also no Bashir. But
there were glittering lights, display screens and consoles. The room hummed with
sound he hadn't heard from the corridor.
PIThis is it/I, he thought. He checked the displays. This was the
transmitter, still transmitting the distress signal. He thought about contacting
the IEnterprise/I now. They knew what had happened to the moon and the
colonists, at least this group. It was time to get back into contact with the
other two teams and leave this dying rock.
PBut he had to find Bashir first. He left the room, and the hum was cut off
when the door closed behind him. He checked the next room on the left and then
came back to the right, finding more storage rooms but not the doctor. He
alternated side to side giving each room the same cursory check before moving
on.
PAnother hum met his ears as he opened one of the doors near the end of the
corridor. And there was Bashir, standing in front of a large computer console.
He'd heard the door and looked up.
P"You're late," Riker scolded, "and you skipped some rooms."
P"I heard something," Bashir replied, "and came here to find it."
P"The rooms are sound-proof," Riker argued. "What did you hear?"
PBashir bit his bottom lip, caught in a lie. "Vla mostly."
P"Ah." Riker smiled, hoping it wasn't a completely friendly smile but also not
derisive. "You followed an hallucination."
PBashir's lips turned sheepishly. "He said he heard something. He was quite
insistent."
PNow Riker's smile was genuine. "I hate to break it to you, but hallucinations
can't walk down the hall in front of you, telling you what's around each corner.
They don't work like that." He let the smile go. Back to business. "Besides you
missed the transmitter."
P"Oh." Bashir's eyes dropped, but then darted back up again. "But I found the
way out."
P"Oh." Riker hadn't expected that, but it was good news. "Where?"
P"Do you remember some sort of door at the upper level?"
PRiker nodded. "Holographic. That's how we got in."
P"That explains it then." Bashir walked out the door and into the room across
the corridor. Riker followed, but only got as far as the door because Bashir was
coming out again. He had a small container in his hand which he lobbed toward
the wall at the end of the corridor. The container went through the wall and
disappeared. "That does explain it."
P"It certainly does," Riker agreed, still watching the wall. It was another
hologram. "Good to know. Now, let's see if we can't contact the
IEnterprise/I."
P"No!"
PRiker spun around at the vehemence in his voice. But Bashir looked just as
surprised, and he was looking toward the door to the computer room, which was
standing open on its own.
P"Why not?" Riker asked, still confused.
P"Why not what?" Bashir returned, trying to cover his surprise. He didn't take
his eyes off the door though, and the door didn't close.
P"You shouted," Riker answered.
PThe surprise returned, only now Bashir was staring at him. He shook his head.
"Hallucinations don't work like that."
P"I'm not hallucinating," Riker said.
P"I thought I was."
PRiker lowered his voice and watched the still open door. "Are you telling me
that was Vla?"
P"You don't see him, do you?" Bashir asked.
PRiker looked hard at the door and the room beyond, not that he wanted to see
the boy. "No, but something is holding the door open."
P"He wants us to go back in," Bashir said.
P"What if he's not your hallucination?"
P"I'm not sure but he's been right so far."
PRiker gave it a moment's thought and then nodded. "Could he be a changeling?
P"Not if you can't see him," Bashir whispered, and then he stepped into the
room. Riker followed him and they both stopped just inside the door.
P
HR

PBashir closed his eyes and tried to block out the hum of the computers.
Vla had disappeared just as he and Riker had entered. He couldn't show them
where the sound was.
PAs it turned out there were three hums, one for each of the machines. And as
he concentrated, he could separate out little beeps and clicks, the sound of his
own breathing, and the whisper of air from the vent. Then a brushing, very soft,
like thick cloth on metal, and the whisper of air began to whistle.
PWhen he opened his eyes, he was already looking straight at the vent. He took
a step toward it and saw movement from the corner of his eye. But it was just
Riker slowly removing his phaser from a pocket. Bashir tilted his head toward
the vent and stepped closer. There were some crates near the wall, so he moved
one over, trying to make as little sound as possible. He stepped up and peered
into the vent.
PIt was dark. Just dark. But there was still the whistle, louder now to his
ears though still just barely audible. He stood very still, listening and
letting his eyes adjust to the darkness inside the vent. After a few minutes, he
could distinguish variations in the darkness, shapes. And one of the shapes was
a head. A small head, but a head, set upon small shoulders.
PToo small to be Jem'Hadar, he thought. It was a child. A survivor! "You can
come out now," Bashir urged, speaking slowly and quietly. He didn't want to
frighten the child.
PRiker stepped toward them. "What is it?" he whispered. Bashir held up a hand
to stop him. The child had moved farther back.
P"It's alright," Bashir tried again. "We're not going to hurt you. We're from
Starfleet. We're here to help."
PThe movement stopped. The child was listening. "I'm Julian," Bashir
continued, "and this is . . . ." He looked to Riker, not remembering his first
name.
P"Will," Riker supplied, putting away his phaser.
P"You can come out now." Bashir offered his hand. "They're gone." He had to
wait a few minutes, but then he felt the soft flesh of a child's hand in his
own. Bashir pulled back gently as the child scooted forward until his young face
appeared in the light. His face was pale, his features gaunt. He didn't yet
commit to leaving the vent. He peered out with grown-up eyes, full of distrust
and wariness. He couldn't have been more than ten years old.
PHe stared hard at Riker and at Riker's phaser. Riker turned the collar of his
jacket so that his comm badge was visible. The boy turned his gaze back to
Bashir, and Bashir did the same, realizing too late that they didn't much look
like Starfleet officers.
PBut the boy seemed satisfied. Still saying nothing, he reached for Bashir's
shoulder. Bashir pulled him the rest of the way from the vent and handed him to
Riker who set him down on the floor.
P"What's your name?" Riker asked, but the boy only stared back at him.
PBashir had an idea, remembering the early days of his own childhood. He
turned over the back of the boy's collar. "Danny," he said, reading the
hand-written letters upside down. When Riker raised an eyebrow. "My parents used
to write my name on my collar," he explained, " in case I wondered off and got
lost."
P"That happen a lot?"
P"Before I was changed? Yes. He's traumatized," he said of Danny, who had
simply moved his head back and forth with the conversation. "Considering what
happened back there."
PRiker nodded. "He's a survivor," he said. "Let's see if we can't contact the
IEnterprise/I." He held out a hand, and to Bashir's surprise, Danny took it.
P
HR

P"Sir!"
PIt was Compton who saw them first. She'd always had good eyes. Grierre
followed where she pointed. Dark figures were moving in the dimming haze of the
valley below. He tried to separate them. "Ten?" he asked.
P"I count twelve."
PGrierre took her count to be the more accurate. "None of our parties had
twelve."
P"Unless the other two joined up," Enyar offered, coming to crouch beside
them, "to come looking for us."
P"I don't want to count on it," Grierre decided. The dark blobs were dancing
in and out of view, or cover. But they were approaching rapidly considering the
distance. "Check your weapons and find secure positions."
PCompton nodded. "They have the advantage in numbers but we have the high
ground."
PEnyar tried to make light as he checked his phaser rifle, "It's only four
apiece."
PGrierre didn't mind. He knew Enyar could, at times, be a hot head, but he was
always focused in battle. Enyar had even killed four Borg during their last
incursion, one of which had been his best friend. "Is that all?"
P
HR

PBashir frowned and tried another configuration. The same annoying chirp met
his earns. He'd heard it seventeen times already. No matter how he reconfigured
the transmitter, he could not alter the distress signal except to distort it.
Riker had recorded a message and left Bashir to send it. He'd brought up the
replicator transformation as justification for his faith in Bashir's ability to
reconfigure this one.
PFrustrated, Bashir closed his eyes, visualizing the transmitter in the dark.
He started with the outer casing, peeling back layers one at a time in his mind.
But it was murky, unfamiliar. Federation technology but not Starfleet
technology. Then it hit him. He was taking apart the wrong thing.
PHe brought the transmitter back to its original configuration and opened the
channel so he could once again hear the original message. Just when it began to
loop again, Bashir recorded it on his tricorder. He closed the channel again so
he wouldn't be distracted and then played back the recording. He listened
carefully. Then he slowed it down by ten percent and listened again. It took
three tries before he heard the breaks. Fifty-nine of them, separating the
thirty-second transmission into sixty half-second segments.
PHe went back to the receiver and, instead of tapping into the actual distress
signal, configured it to play only the prerecorded outbound message that Riker
had wanted to replace. What he heard was incomprehensible, staccato syllables a
half-second long and a second apart.
P"What's that?"
PBashir had been concentrating so hard that he didn't hear the door open.
"That's what this transmitter is transmitting," Bashir answered.
PRiker steered the little boy back into the room. "That's not the distress
signal?" he asked.
PBashir shook his head. "No, it is. Or rather it's one third of it."
PRiker dropped down onto a crate. "Which third would that be?"
P"The first, I think," Bashir replied. "Three directions, three transmitters,
one transmission. They alternate every half-second."
P"Can we change it?"
PBashir had been trying that for awhile. "This one transmitter alone isn't
strong enough to penetrate the interference."
PRiker glanced at Danny who seemed uninterested in the whole affair. "But you
said the three were alternating."
P"With the message," Bashir explained, checking the tricorder to make sure he
was right. "But they're all broadcasting. They just broadcast silence the other
twenty seconds."
P"So the IEnterprise/I won't understand our message," Riker concluded.
"What about something non-verbal? Like how you contacted Data."
PBashir dismissed that almost immediately. "It was just a pattern," he said.
"Enough to make him curious. He had no idea it was me or what the transmission
was about. We need the IEnterprise/I to come and get us. We need something
specific."
P"What about SOS?" Riker suggested. "You know, Morse code? It's short but
specific enough to say we need help."
PBashir thought about that, tapping the three letters on his knee. Too slow.
He tried again, faster this time. It could be done, each letter taking a
half-second. Probably too fast for a human, but not for Data "We'd have to break
it up," he said. "One letter per turn or it will get drowned out by the other
two transmitters."
PRiker slapped his knee and stood up. "It's a start," he decided. "Just enough
to make them curious. Maybe they'll find a way to contact us."
PBashir nodded and set to work. It took less than a minute to record a looping
SOS message and replace the older signal with it. That finished, he joined Riker
and Danny at the end of the corridor. The wall at the end shimmered as they
passed through it, and Bashir again found himself plunged into darkness.
Fortunately Riker had found a lantern of sorts and he flicked it on. But instead
of a passage out, Bashir saw a rough and jagged wall of rock. He checked his
tricorder and found the passage thirteen meters up. "It's above us," he told
Riker, pointing.
P"I guess we don't get a turbolift this time," Riker quipped. "Think you can
climb?"
PBashir took off the splint and tested his sore wrist, but nodded despite the
ache he still felt. "We haven't got much choice."
PRiker held the lantern up in front of the boy. "I don't think he'll be able
to do this himself. I'll take him. You take the bag and follow-up." He handed
Bashir the lantern and bag, though he removed one of the ration bars and held it
out to Danny. "Last chance. You sure you don't want it?"
PDanny shook his head and Bashir guessed he still hadn't spoken. It wasn't
surprising. Danny wouldn't be the first child to stop speaking after such a
trauma. Riker tossed the bar back to Bashir and crouched down. Bashir steered
the boy until he was piggy-back on Riker and then helped the commander to stand
under the extra weight. Riker then started up the wall, which perhaps wasn't as
impassible as it first appeared. Still it would be difficult with the shifting
of the lantern swinging from Bashir's arm.
PIRock climbing is new/I, he thought, trying to make light of what was
actually an ordeal. He still felt dizzy, but he wanted out of this cave as much
as he had the other one. He ignored the swinging light for the most part and
trusted the rest of his senses to find the next hand- or foothold.
PRiker was just above him, and little pebbles and dust tumbled lightly down in
his wake. "Not much of an escape hatch," he commented. "They couldn't have
expected to evacuate anyone this way."
P"They didn't plan on evacuating," Bashir pointed out. He held himself to the
wall with his toes and the fingers of one hand while he felt for the next edge
with his other hand. "This is where they evacuated to. They meant to keep the
enemy out."
P"Didn't work," Riker grunted. "How'd they get in without tripping the booby
trap?"
PJust then a shower of fine dust fell down on Bashir and he was glad he'd shut
his eyes. He opened them when he heard the gasp. Looking up, he saw a jacket
rushing toward him, slightly to the left. The jacket was attached to arms and
legs and the rest of the boy. By the time all that registered, Danny had fallen
into Bashir's left shoulder, loosening his hold on the wall and knocking the
lantern off his arm. The lantern crashed to the floor, plunging them once again
into darkness. Danny, however, did not.
PBashir gripped the boy's collar in his fist and used all his strength to push
his body close to the wall with nothing but his toes and four fingertips. "Grab
the wall!" he ordered even as Riker was asking about the boy.
P"You caught him?!"
PBashir ignored him. Having already fallen once that day, he didn't care to do
so again.
PAlmost immediately, the weight dragging on his arm disappeared, though he
still had his fist on the boy's jacket. He wasn't sure what to do then. He
couldn't let go of the boy, and he couldn't climb with only one hand. His fist
lifted and he realized Danny was climbing. Tentatively, he let go, keeping his
hand hovering over the boy's back. He could feel the jacket brush against his
palm as it moved.
P"There's light up here," Riker called down. "Just take your time. Don't try
to rush it."
PBashir didn't, though he could have gone a little faster. He wanted to stay
below the boy in case there was another slip. He kept track of Danny by sound,
and used the feel of the rock and Riker's voice to guide himself upward.
PAs he edged closer to Riker's position, he could begin to sense shadows in
the rock, the vague definition of Danny's form above him, and the silhouette of
Riker's head. There was light up there. Danny reached Riker first, and the
commander pulled him over. Satisfied the boy was safe, Bashir, now with a
steady, if incredibly dim and indirect, source of light, ignored the minor cuts
on his fingers and sped up his climb.
PWhen he reached the ledge, he could see the light. It came from around a
corner. The ledge was really the exit of a tight crawlway, but the light, little
as it was, had a natural feel to it. And the air didn't smell right. They had
indeed found the exit.
PRiker flexed his fingers and Bashir remembered the pain in his own. He opened
his medkit and ran the dermal regenerator over his hands. There was nothing to
clean them with, so he also loaded a hypospray with antibiotic after passing the
regenerator to Riker.
P"What about you, Danny?" Bashir asked. "Do your hands hurt?" He lifted one of
the boy's hands and felt it for blood and injury. Riker handed back the
equipment and started down the tunnel. Bashir felt nothing and tried the other
hand, but the boy was impatient. He pulled loose and set off after Riker. Bashir
packed his things quickly and followed, crawling through the increasingly muddy
tunnel, around the corner toward light and air and freedom. But he wasn't
thinking about those things. He was thinking about a ten-year-old survivor who
wasn't and could climb rock like a mountain goat without so much as a scratch on
his hands.
PHe lost those thoughts, too, though as he stood up beside Riker. "You hear
that?"
P"Vla again?" Riker asked in a whisper as he peered nervously back down the
tunnel.
PBashir stepped past him into the sunlight and dust. "No," he said, "weapons
fire."
P
HR

PRiker paused, just for a moment, trying to hear for himself. Bashir had a
head injury. He admitted to hearing things. But then so had Riker, not that he
could explain that one. And Bashir probably did have better hearing.
P"Wait right here," he told the boy. He took the bag from Bashir's shoulder
and dropped it on the ground. "Don't leave this cave until one of us comes for
you." He waited for Bashir to ready his weapon and then motioned for the doctor
to follow him out.
POnce outside, he heard the fighting too. But he couldn't see anything. They
were somewhere on a mountain and a ridge was between them and the source of the
sound. "Tricorder," he ordered, but Bashir already had it out. While he scanned,
he looked back over his shoulder toward the mouth of the cave. "What?"
PBashir shook his head. "I'm not sure." He turned his attention back to the
tricorder. "It's not clear, but there are definitely more than three life signs.
And most of them aren't human. Above us, to the west. We're close."
P"Our guys?" Riker asked.
P"Above them," Bashir answered.
P"Good," Riker decided. "We can cut them off. I take it we're outnumbered."
Bashir nodded. "Okay, let's go. We'll come back for the boy. Keep low and quiet,
to the rocks. We'll surprise them."
PBashir looked once more over his shoulder, frowning, but he nodded and
started over the ridge.
PThey hadn't gone more than forty meters before the cave and even that first
ridge were obscured from sight. But the firing was louder, and now there were
voices. Deep voices, focused, authoritative and unfearful. "Victory is life!"
PRiker saw the Vorta first. She stood back, away from the firing, protected
behind a barrier of rock. Protected from the three officers still firing from
the cave's entrance, but not from Riker. Or rather, not from Bashir. Riker
pointed to the Vorta and then to Bashir's weapon. He held up five fingers and
waited for Bashir's solemn nod. He was impressed. Crusher might have protested
such an order.
PRiker dropped his hand and rushed forward, low and quiet. He'd be close
before Bashir even fired. In his head, he counted. When he got to four the Vorta
turned. She opened her mouth in surprise, but a bolt of light burned a hole into
her chest before she could utter a command. Riker was past her before her body
hit the ground.
PAt least one Jem'Hadar had heard though, and Riker diverted to the Vorta's
position, stepping over her lifeless corpse. The Jem'Hadar saw nothing when he
turned. Confused he turned back to the fight and Riker fired.
PNow they all knew he was back there. But there were two less to worry about
now. Riker spotted two more bodies even as three very alive Jem'Hadar rushed
him. He estimated five more still firing up the mountain.
PRiker fired, dropping one of his attackers. The others, caring nothing for
their fallen comrade, kept coming. He got one more shot off but the first of
them had reached him, knocking off his aim. Still a second Jem'Hadar fell and
Riker guessed it was Bashir who had fired. Quarters were too close after that.
Riker couldn't even lift his phaser rifle, let alone fire it. The Jem'Hadar had
tackled him, throwing him hard onto the ground. Riker thought he actually saw
stars, but he ignored them and the dizziness. The Jem'Hadar had a knife-a
Klingon dagger-to his throat. And Riker didn't want to die.
PRiker caught the Jem'Hadar's arm with both of his, holding the knife at bay
barely an inch from his throat. The Jem'Hadar was strong, and Riker grunted with
the effort to keep the blade from digging into his flesh. The Jem'Hadar, though,
only needed one arm to counter Riker's two, and he used the other to pound Riker
in the stomach.
PThe blow, not completely unexpected, was jarring, enough that Riker
involuntarily lost his grip along with his breath. But it also caused him to
curl inward, and he used the movement to twist sideways. The dagger caught him
in the shoulder, and the Jem'Hadar made sure he buried the jagged blade all the
way to the hilt.
PThe pain was blinding, a brilliant, fiery white behind his eyes. He couldn't
see, he could only feel: the pain in his shoulder, the weight of the Jem'Hadar
over him, the bony fist that pounded into his face.
PRiker tried to reach his phaser rifle somewhere at his side, but he still
couldn't see it. He only had one thing left. Well, two things really, but he
needed the other for leverage. Reaching up with his good left arm, he grabbed
what he expected was his assailant's uniform and yanked. The Jem'Hadar hadn't
expected it and Riker pulled him off balance just enough that Riker could get a
leg into the mix. Once he got his foot firmly planted in the Jem'Hadar's torso,
he straightened his leg and sent the Dominion soldier flying. He didn't stay
down long.
PIgnoring the pain and forcing his eyes to work, Riker found his phaser and
fired. And missed. The Jem'Hadar raised his own weapon, but someone else fired
and he fell. It was only a leg wound though. Riker fired again to finish him
off.
PThe immediate threat was gone, and Riker was left alone in the skirmish. Only
a few Dominion soldiers remained, and the rest of the team had now come down to
finish them off. Riker looked to his right and saw Bashir coming towards him,
throwing his phaser to the ground in favor of his medkit.
P"Stay still," Bashir ordered, pressing a hypospray to Riker's shoulder.
PThe pain immediately subsided to a more bearable level. Trying not to look at
the knife, he turned his attention back to the skirmish. He counted four
Jem'Hadar and only three Starfleet officers actively fighting against them.
Compton was being double teamed. She fell, but used her legs to kick the knee of
one of her attackers. She scrambled up while he clutched his leg.
PRiker didn't see what happened after that. His shoulder erupted in pain
again, and he turned his head to see the knife now in Bashir's hand. His other
hand was now clamped down on Riker's shoulder. The pain slipped away again
quickly, and Bashir prepared a bandage. But once the pain had lessened, Riker's
attention was elsewhere: just over the crest of the ridge behind and to the
right of Bashir's shoulder.
P"Danny!" The boy's head could just be seen poking over the tops of the rock.
And a Jem'Hadar had made his way to the edge of the ridge.
PBashir spun around without removing his hold on Riker's shoulder. The
Jem'Hadar was climbing quickly over to where Danny was still standing passively.
Riker tried to sit up, to reach for his weapon, but Bashir held him down and
even grabbed his free arm.
P"Hold this here," he ordered, placing Riker's left hand over the bandage.
"Press down."
PRiker didn't take his eyes from the boy, but he did what Bashir said,
pressing hard enough that the pain stirred and his vision blurred. He saw
Bashir, who had never turned back toward Riker, find the bloody knife with his
hand. The Jem'Hadar had stopped in front of Danny, the top of whose head barely
showed now. Then the Jem'Hadar dropped, choking out a cry of pain. Bashir still
knelt there, staring at where Danny's hair disappeared behind the rocks. His
hand, now empty was smeared with blood from the blade of the knife.
P
HR

PRiker thought he would run after the boy. He wanted him to. But he seemed
frozen there, the color draining from his face.
PWell, someone had to go. The Jem'Hadar could still be alive. He could have
grabbed the boy. Riker again tried to sit up.
PBashir pushed him back down. "You'll be fine, Commander," he said, speaking
louder than before. He leaned in close as he secured the bandage. "The Jem'Hadar
wasn't hurting him," he whispered.
PRiker wasn't sure if he was confused because of the way Bashir was acting or
if it was a result of his injury. "That's because you killed him," he replied,
also whispering. "You have to go after the boy. He's probably terrified."
P"He was talking to him," Bashir said, and Riker wasn't sure which pronoun
went to the boy and which to the Dominion soldier. "He wasn't hungry. He climbed
that wall faster than me. He didn't hurt his hands, and he didn't listen when we
told him to stay put."
PRiker felt dizzy, but then, he had felt dizzy since he hit the ground. "So,
maybe he's had practice with the wall. He was curious or afraid to be alone."
P"He would have run," Bashir argued, finishing with the bandage, but still
keeping his voice down.
P"He did," Riker told him, pointing to where they'd last seen him.
P"Only after I threw the knife."
PBashir touched the hyposray to Riker's neck and the dizziness began to
subside. Suddenly the pieces started to come together. Bashir's evidence and his
lack of color. "You think he's a changeling!"
PBashir raised his voice again. "That will have to do for now. You'll need
surgery when we get back to the ship." He offered a hand and supported Riker's
back as they stood.
P"Why?" Riker asked, whispering. "It could have left any time."
P"The same reason they killed all those people," Bashir replied, lowering his
voice again. "They still want the dilithium."
P"But it's useless," Riker reminded him. "The colonists made sure of it."
PBashir's eyes widened. "Say that louder," he said.
PRiker knew why they were whispering, but he didn't get why Bashir now wanted
to risk being overheard. "What?"
P"I have an idea," Bashir whispered back. "Just play along." He raised his
voice loud enough to be overheard. "We can't just leave, Commander. The
Federation needs this dilithium."
PRiker took a deep breath. What if they were wrong? What if they were right?
Either way, they had to find the boy, to rescue him or to capture him. He raised
his voice. "The dilithium is useless. The colonists made sure of that."
P"It's useless Inow/I," Bashir argued, allowing a trace of arrogance into
his voice. "They wouldn't have holed up in that cave if they meant for it to be
permanent."
P"So you're saying it's reversible?" Riker asked, knowing full well that it
was. He wouldn't be arguing at all if Bashir hadn't asked him to play along.
Still, finding the key to decontaminating the dilithium could take months, if
not years, especially if the colony's whole population had been murdered like
those in the cave. "Even so it's not for us. It will take months for our
scientists to even figure out how to reverse it."
P"Oh, please," Bashir said, rolling his eyes and throwing up his hands. "It's
not Ithat/I hard. It's just chemistry."
PBashir was more animated now than he'd ever been on the ship or even in the
cave. Which was good. Otherwise Riker wouldn't have had to fake his irritation
at Bashir's tone. Riker was sure, too, that Bashir's next words would be to
boast about his genetic superiority, something he hadn't actually done in
Riker's presence yet.
PBashir didn't get the chance, because Danny's little boy head popped up over
the rocks again, wide-eyed and pale. His timing was suspicious, but otherwise he
looked very much like what he presented himself to be as Bashir gently scolded
him for not staying where he was told. If he was a changeling, he seemed not to
be aware that he'd been found out.
PRiker looked around and noted the skirmish was over. Grierre and Compton were
helping Enyar off the ground. There were no more Jem'Hadar. The skirmish was
won, with relatively few injuries to the away team. The ache in his shoulder
reminded him that he was one of the injured.
P"Try not to move that much," Bashir reminded him.
PRiker ignored him. He had bigger things to worry about than a shoulder.
Others in his team were bleeding, too, but Bashir didn't even look at them. He
was watching the boy. Bashir had other things to worry about, too. One way or
another, they had to know. Here:
P
HR

P"What's the problem, Mr. La Forge?"
P"Nothing, sir," Geordi replied, still trying to filter out the distress
signal which was interfering with their signal. "The probe is working perfectly,
but the distress signal has become garbled. It changes frequency every one point
five seconds. We have to recalibrate our own transmitter to match."
P"Geordi," Data interrupted, "it is a pattern."
PGeordi appreciated Data's help, but between him, the captain, and the
transmitter, Geordi was getting frustrated. "I got that Data. But why did it
change?"
PData did appear to pick up on the frustration. "Because someone changed it,"
he replied.
PHe pressed a few controls and the distress signal began to play, but at only
half its normal speed. Now the pattern was more than clear. And the message
wasn't garbled. It was just missing pieces. A full second of every three at
current speed. But the missing part wasn't filled with silence. Instead it was
short pulses of Morse code.
PSuddenly, all that frustration was gone. "Captain," Geordi reported, "I think
the away team just contacted us."
P
HR

PThey stood in a circle around the boy, and Riker made introductions to the
rest of the team. Bashir was sure it was only an excuse to surround the boy.
What Riker said next confirmed it.
P"Phasers at the ready," Riker ordered casually. "There could be more of them
out there." He was absently turning the dagger, the one he'd retrieved from the
fallen Jem'Hadar, over and over in his hands. "Setting three should be fine for
now."
PBashir was tired, drained in fact, but his pulse refused to slow. It made him
dizzy. Or maybe the concussion did. Either way, he knew Danny was the solution
to it. If Danny was just a boy, then they could leave this moon with its one
survivor. If not . . . well, that was something he didn't want to contemplate.
P"We were all alone at one point or another," Riker went on, "whether in the
cave or in the fighting. As a precaution, I want everyone to be tested. Doctor,
would you please draw blood from everyone?"
PBashir heard him, but didn't-couldn't-take his eyes off the boy. He
answered. "They've gotten past blood tests before."
PRiker looked at him, turned his head. Bashir caught that in the corner of his
vision. "One used a whole arm from the person it replaced," Bashir added to
illustrate. Just the mention of it gave him a chill. Not the arm so much as that
changeling. An image flashed through his mind. A vial of black powder poured
into his hand. Her ashes. It was one of the ways he coped, reminding himself
that Kira had killed her, that she was no longer a threat. She could only
torment him with memories now.
PRiker took a breath and then spoke again. "Okay, so we try something
different. Something one wouldn't be able to prepare for. A lock of hair."
P"You could have prepared for it," Enyar pointed out, "since you suggested
it."
PRiker gave him a sideways smile. "Okay, so you can suggest something
different for me."
PDanny turned to look at one and then the other as they spoke, but he showed
no expression. He just watched. And Bashir watched him.
P"Fingernails?" Grierre suggested with a shrug before Enyar had come up with
anything.
P"As long as it can be separated from the body," Bashir confirmed.
P"Why don't we all just spit?" Compton asked.
PINovel/I, Bashir thought. IWhy hadn't anyone thought of that
before?/I
PRiker smirked. "Maybe next time." For now, he took the knife and sliced a bit
of his left thumbnail off, which he then handed to Grierre.
PGrierre held it in the palm of his hand and waited about thirty seconds. When
it didn't change, he dropped it to the ground. .
P"Next," Riker ordered, handing the knife to Grierre, the closest one
clockwise. .
PGrierre cut a small lock of hair from near his right ear. He handed the lock
to Riker, the knife to Compton. She frowned a bit at the state of the weapon,
which had only been wiped off, not cleaned. After a suitable wait-for the lock
of hair to change in Riker's hand-Compton repeated the gesture. Hair to the
right, knife to the left. Bashir would be the last, with the exception of the
boy. Danny watched each one, turning in a circle as Compton, then Enyar, cut a
lock of hair.
PFinally, the knife was given to Bashir. His own hair was short, given his
recent haircut, but he pinched a bit between his fingers and put the knife close
to his skin. His eyes never left the boy, and the boy met his gaze. Enyar
dropped Bashir's hair which hadn't changed, and it flew away with the dust in
the air.
P"Keep the knife," Riker ordered. And Bashir finally turned away from the boy
to look at Riker. He didn't want to be the one to be that close to a Founder,
provided of course, Danny was one.
PRiker leaned down to Danny's level. "We have to check you, too," he told the
boy. "Don't worry. He's a doctor. He won't hurt you."
PBashir began to lower himself to one knee, hands outstretched. He'd do it
quickly. Take a lock and then stand back up again to wait for the change.
PDanny didn't give him the chance. Danny melted away in a flash of golden
liquid, falling back into the little boy's clothes and bursting out again in a
thick stream that hit Grierre right in the chest. Everyone was surprised and
Bashir jerked back instinctively, moving his hand back to his phaser even before
the stream had completely left Grierre. It was so quick, Grierre hadn't had time
to fall before the changeling had reformed into some sort of snake. Grierre had
a look of disbelief on his face. Others fired behind him, and the changeling
squealed.
PBashir had forgotten the shapeshifter. He ran forward as Grierre fell,
collapsing first at the knees, arms outstretched. He hit the ground, gasping for
breath, only a moment before Bashir reached him. It was more than a sucking
chest wound. Bashir could see through the twelve-centimeter hole in Grierre's
chest to the barren soil below. With one hand, Bashir cradled him; the other
searched in his medical bag. Grierre struggled, trying to breathe and looking to
Bashir for help, for hope. But there was nothing Bashir could do. He could heal
a laceration, knit a broken bone, but he couldn't put this back together, not in
the time it would take Grierre to either bleed to death or die of asphyxiation.
PBashir placed a vile into the hypospray from his bag, still using only one
hand. For the pain. It was all he could do. He placed the hypospray to the
lieutenant's neck but it did little to console the man. Grierre was still trying
to breathe, to live. He grasped Bashir's arms with panicked fingers and sucked
in breath that had nowhere to go. Bashir just held him until, finally, the
struggling stopped, the fingers loosened, and Grierre was dead.
PThis was the last thing Bashir wanted. They'd already lost one of the team.
He'd seen enough corpses for one day. For a month. For a lifetime. Compton knelt
down beside him, and Bashir realized the firing had stopped. He looked up, past
Grierre's frozen expression of shock, to where a blotch of black dust was slowly
being swept away by the moon's wind. The changeling was dead, too. Bashir closed
Grierre's eyes and moved out from under him, laying him gently on the ground.
PIt was Riker who touched his shoulder. "The IEnterprise/I just contacted
us," he said, speaking quietly, so as not to disturb the moment too much. But
the moment was nothing but disturbing to Bashir. He stood and turned away from
the body and found instead the clothes the changeling had left behind. He could
just see the tag in the back of the jacket. There had been a real Danny once. He
was probably back in the cave with the other children. Bashir could see them
still, stacked against the wall.
PHe turned away again. "When do we leave?"
P
HR

PThey'd had to wait another hour for the IEnterprise/I's engineers to
filter out the interference. The transport finally came just as the sun was
beginning to set. Bashir noted the glorious red-gold color of the sky, a product
of the pollution brought on by the colonists.
PHis head ached considerably, but his mind was clearer now, more under
control. Troi was too distracted by the emotions of the others though to pay him
much notice. Bashir heard about it in Sickbay. Riker's wasn't the only group to
take on casualties in skirmishes with lingering Jem'Hadar. The other away team
members talked of seeing bodies, of the smell. All of the colonists were dead.
Bashir was not surprised.
PBashir was given the next day off, to recover from his concussion, and he'd
welcomed the return to his clean, quiet quarters on the IEnterprise/I. Troi
had come by, though. She wanted to talk about what he'd experienced in the cave.
He told her he didn't remember much about it, using the concussion as an excuse.
He didn't want to talk about the cave, or even Danny. He didn't want to think
about them, because, if he did, he would feel. He'd feel the disgust and the
sadness, the anguish and the hopelessness again, and Troi might have changed her
mind about DS Nine and even his return to duty.
PHe could tell she was frustrated when she left, but he couldn't let that
concern him any more than Riker's inferiority complex. He would soon return to
Deep Space Nine and thereafter be Ezri's problem.
PTwo days later, the dilithium contamination mystery was solved. Surprisingly,
it was Patrick who cracked it, which had sent Jack into a jealous huff. All of
which was described, with characteristic melodramatic air, by Lauren in a letter
to Bashir. She did manage to squeeze in two sentences welcoming him back from
the dead.
PThe scant sensor data and Bashir's tricorder readings had been sent to the
Institute in the hope that the trio of "mutants" would be able to solve the
chemical equation faster than Starfleet's own scientists. They'd been right, and
as far as Bashir was concerned, it was the only good thing to come of Carello
Naru.
PBut he didn't want to think about that anymore. He only wanted to think of
Deep Space Nine. Home. In just two more hours. If he closed his eyes, he could
see every detail of his quarters, just as he had left them the last time Sloan
had taken him away. Kukalaka sat on the corner table in the living room. Three
PADDs were left on the coffee table. His breakfast was still in the replicator.
Sloan hadn't given him time to eat it. Typical.
POutside his quarters was the long, curved corridor. Beyond that, a turbolift
to the Promenade. And there, crowds of people, some shopping, others working,
and still others just taking a break from the war. There was Quark's, fairly
loud even in the morning. Morn would wave hello from his barstool. Quark
wouldn't bother, unless he wanted something.
PGarak's shop was farther down, on the outside curve of the Promenade. The
intrepid Cardassian would be working behind his desk, either designing or sewing
or decoding Dominion/Cardassian transmissions. Or maybe he'd have a customer.
He'd nod or wave to let Julian know he'd be delayed a bit. Bashir could wait,
most days. And in a few minutes, the customer would be satisfied, and Garak
would be free for lunch at the Replimat.
PThe Replimat was a lively place at lunch time, and sometimes he and Garak
would have to wait in line to get a table. They'd pass the time talking about
literature or politics but never about the war. It was a rule they'd made a few
weeks before. Lunch was time-off from the war.
PAfter lunch, he might check in at Ops, visit with O'Brien or Kira before
returning to the Infirmary. His Infirmary. Sickbay on the IEnterprise/I was
like Sickbay on the IDefiant/I, only bigger, and that was pretty close to
being like every Sickbay on every Starfleet vessel or installation in the
Federation. But the Infirmary was unique, a blending of Federation medical
technology and Cardassian design, or vice versa. It had character, a mysterious
or adventurous look to it. But Bashir found it comforting. He felt at home there
more than any place he'd ever been.
PThe two hours flew by. The ship-wide announcement that they were about to
dock broke into his thoughts and shattered the tranquility he felt. It was time
to go home.
P
HR

PThe IEnterprise/I would be docking late in the evening, and since
everyone was planning to be together anyway, Sisko had invited the senior staff
and a few other guests over for dinner. Jake, having gotten the sense that his
father was preoccupied, had volunteered to do the cooking. The captain didn't
mind. He was preoccupied.
PBut this wasn't just a social occasion. This was a briefing, for tonight, the
dead-in a sense-came back to life.
PSisko himself was doing a particularly good job of blending in with the
furniture. Ezri had taken the lead, and the captain was more than willing to let
her keep it.
P"With the exception of his time on the IEnterprise/I," Ezri was saying,
"Julian has spent most of the last six months in complete isolation. While he's
sure to have recovered from any physical effects of that isolation, it hasn't
been quite two weeks since he was rescued. He will likely still have emotional
and psychological issues when he returns. We need to be aware of that and be
sensative to what he's feeling."
P"If he is unfit," Worf spoke up, though not as loudly as he might have, "he
should not be allowed to practice medicine."
PSisko rankled at his tone, but he couldn't speak up, not just because it
would bring his presence back to the awareness of the others, but because of
what he'd seen in Bashir.
PKira was the first to defend Bashir. "He's Ibeen/I practicing medicine.
Their Chief Medical Officer has nothing but praise for his ability, knowledge,
compassion. It took forty minutes to read her report. I never knew Julian had so
many wonderful attributes."
PSisko thought again that maybe he'd been wrong not to say anything after his
talk with Julian, but what could he have said without telling why Bashir had
been so upset? Besides he'd had nearly two weeks on the IEnterprise/I with a
counselor who was also an empath.
P"That's just it," Dax said. "That's in Sickbay. That's when he's being a
doctor, working as a doctor. Counselor Troi says it's like a light switch. He's
fine when he's working. He's outgoing and charming and everything else we know
him to be. But when he's out of that setting, he's subdued and withdrawn. He
keeps to himself and rarely spends time with more than one person."
PSisko could believe that, having heard the other's reports. Bashir had been
anything but emotionless when he'd confronted Sisko. Two sides of the same
person.
P"He has friends here," Ezri continued. "And when the IEnterprise/I docks
tonight, they're-we're-all going to want to see him, to tell him that we
missed him, maybe even just touch him so we know he's real. That may not be what
he wants. He may not be comfortable with that."
P"Like me," Nog spoke up. Jake had invited him, and Sisko hadn't seen anything
wrong with it. Besides, he did have a unique point of view, as he was reminding
everyone. "You-all of you-meant well, coming to welcome me back after I lost
my leg. I can realize that now, but it wasn't what I wanted then."
P"Or even what you needed," Dax affirmed. "And that may be the case with
Julian."
PSisko could imagine a scene like that with Bashir, except, instead of subdued
and dour like Nog, the doctor would be anxious and wary, something like a small
animal cornered by a pack of wolves.
P"Are you saying we should all go home after dinner?" asked O'Brien, a bit
roughly.
PEzri was quick to reassure him. "No, I think we should be there. I think we
should plan for the best, but not expect it. We should take our cue from him,
keep things low key until we know he's okay with more."
PSisko had been half hoping that would be the case. It would give Bashir a
chance to get settled and give the rest of them time to assess his state of
mind. He'd realized a lot that night. For the first time Sisko had sensed how
dangerous Bashir could be. And yet, he'd also understood that the only thing
holding Julian back was Julian. It wasn't Sisko's rank that kept him from
attacking, nor the fear of punishment. It was the man Julian was, the
compassionate one Ezri had talked about. He was still in there somewhere.
P
HR

PThere was a small crowd waiting by the airlock. During war, any time a ship
put in at a starbase was an exciting relief for her crew. The others were too
busy talking among themselves to even notice him. He hung back, just around a
corner, watching them smile and listening to their laughter. There was an energy
in the corridor and it pricked at the sleeves of his uniform.
PHe backed away, clutching his one small bag. It would be like that on the
other side, too. It wouldn't just go away when the IEnterprise/I crewmembers
dissolved into the crowds of the Promenade. It would stay and follow him,
because the IEnterprise/I crewmembers were just waiting for the airlock door
to open. On the other side, they were waiting for him.
PIt wasn't for any rational reason that he got into the turbolift. He didn't
even plan to call out the deck that he did, even though he knew what he would
find there. A smaller service airlock.
PHe was surprised, though, by who he found there.
P"The personnel airlock is up a few decks," Riker stated as he leaned back
against the airlock controls.
PBashir stopped at the door, still unsure of his own reasoning in coming. He
couldn't find a reply for Riker.
P"But I suppose you knew that," Riker went on. He didn't seem angry, and
Bashir didn'tsee anyone else in the room. "They're probably waiting for you up
there. But I suppose you knew that, too."
PBashir just nodded, still unsure of his own response and Riker's reason for
being there.
PRiker stepped toward him. "I thought you wanted to go home," he said, dipping
his eyebrows down in confusion.
PFinally, Bashir felt he could answer. "I do. I can get home this way."
PRiker took a moment before speaking again and nodded. "You could. But all
your friends are waiting the other way."
PBashir bit his lip and turned away. He didn't have the answers. "There's a
crowd . . . ," he began.
P"You know," Riker said, saving him from having to continue, "I have a
brother. My twin in a sense."
PBashir could tell a story was forthcoming. That was easier to deal with, so
he played along. "In what sense?"
P"Well, he's me." Riker found a couple of crates and sat down on one.
"Transporter accident. It created a double of me. Problem is we didn't know it.
So he, the other me, was marooned on a crashed ship for seven years before we
discovered him. In the end, we worked it out that we could be brothers. I'd be
Will Riker and he'd go by Tom, our middle name."
P"Oh, him," Bashir interjected. "He was on the station. He hijacked the
IDefiant/I."
P"And last I heard," Riker said, nodding sadly, "the Cardassian's had him. But
that's a different story for another evening. This is about his rescue."
P"Because he was like me," Bashir realized. "Because he was marooned."
PRiker nodded again. "Not exactly like you. He was marooned by accident. He
didn't give up hope of rescue. Not for seven years. It kept him going, kept him
sane.
P"He dreamt of rescue, of going home, of seeing Dad again, of getting his
career back on track, of holding . . . well, the woman I had loved back then. In
short, he dreamed about getting his life back."
PNow Bashir could see where Riker was going with this. His pulse sped up a bit
in his chest. Still he couldn't interrupt. He found himself hoping for a happy
ending even though he already knew the epilogue.
P"He Iwas/I rescued," Riker went on. "He did get back into Starfleet. He
did see Dad. And, for awhile, he even got the woman. But he couldn't get his
life back. He couldn't just pick up where he left off. I had his career. And the
woman, she had her own. She'd grown and changed. And, even though he didn't
realize it, so had he. The puzzle had changed and he didn't quite fit anymore."
PNow his heart was pounding. "Are you saying I shouldn't go back?"
PRiker stood again and came toward him. "No, I said you weren't exactly alike.
You were only gone six months, for one thing. And there's not another Julian
Bashir running around the station. There's still a place for you. I just. . . .
P"Look," he began again, "you've been dreaming about going home for the last
six months, or at least the last couple of weeks. You want to pick everything up
right where you left off. But life doesn't work that way. It's going to
disappoint you no matter how much you try and hide from it. In fact, the more
you hide the more you lose."
PRationally, Bashir knew Riker was right. But he didn't feel rational. He felt
violated, a victim of theft. His life, those last six months had been stolen
from him, and now Riker was saying there was no justice, nothing to make up for
what he had lost. It wasn't fair.
PWhen he didn't say anything, Riker put a hand on his shoulder. "So make the
most of it. Take it as it is and claim it as yours. It's still your life. And
it's waiting for you with open arms." The hand on Bashir's shoulder turned him
away from the service airlock and toward the corridor. "Up on Deck Ten."
PBashir still felt uneasy about going back to the main airlock, but he had no
argument to make to Riker, no reason not to go with him when the commander
walked him back to the turbolift. Riker's words had stung. They were words he
hadn't wanted to hear even though he could hear himself saying them to someone
else. He had said almost the same thing to Crewman Bejlis about the loss of her
arm.
PRiker took his bag walked him to the airlock as well, and Bashir was
surprised to find most of the senior staff their waiting for him. Geordi and
Data stood on one side of the corridor.
PGeordi smiled and offered a hand. "You know you could stay if you wanted."
PBashir didn't want to stay. He wanted what Riker told him he couldn't have.
"I'll keep that in mind."
PHe offered Data his hand. Data had gotten him out of the cave, and Data had
saved him from the court martial. Bashir regretted not having more time to spend
with him. "Thank you, Commander. For everthing."
P"That is what friends are for," Data replied, shaking his hand.
PTroi and Crusher waited on the other side. Troi was watching him closely. Too
closely. He hadn't been careful enough. She probably felt his uneasiness.
P"It was an honor working with you, Doctor," Crusher said. "Don't let them
work you too hard too soon. Take some time for yourself."
P"I had six months to myself," Bashir replied, "but I doubt I'll be thrown
right into the thick of things anyway."
PTroi offered her hand as well. "I've spoken to Counselor Dax. You'll be
seeing her once a day at first. Maybe you'll open up more once you're home."
PSo she had known all along that he was holding her back. IIt doesn't
matter/I, he told himself. She was letting him go, and that was all he wanted
from her. "I'll try," he told. "Please thank Captain Picard for me."
P"I will," Troi replied. "You're nervous."
PBashir could already see the edge of a sizeable crowd on the other side.
"It's a lot of people," he admitted to her. Riker had hit closer to the mark.
Maybe she wouldn't push any farther. At this point, he just wanted to get it
over with.
P"They're your friends," she reminded him. "You'll be fine."
PBashir just nodded and took his bag back from Riker. He took a long, slow
breath as he stepped past them into the airlock. The great wheel on the station
side was still rolled back. On the other side was home.
PTHE ENDBRContinued in Faith, Part II, Forgiveness also on .
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